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a440: Haiti stuns World Cup-bound Ecuador (fwd)

From: Tttnhm@aol.com

Miami Herald
Published Monday, January 21, 2002

Gold Cup upset: Haiti stuns World Cup-bound Ecuador

That buzz emanating from Little Haiti at about six o'clock Sunday was the sound of jubilant -- and shocked -- soccer fans, as word spread from the Orange Bowl that the Haitian national team, a minnow in the region, was leading World Cup-bound Ecuador 2-0 at halftime of a Gold Cup match, a lead they would hold for one of the biggest upsets in team history.

``They're probably jumping in their cars right now and flying over for the second half,'' said Michelle Victor, of Haitian TeleLacaya.

After the game, Haitian fans hung over the northwest tunnel, chanting ``Hai-ti! Hai-ti!'' and team officials phoned back to the island on cellphones with the news.

``This was a great achievement, and I don't even think most of us players have realized we won yet,'' Haitian defender Gilbert Jean-Baptiste said. ``We will never forget this win.''

Almost as surprising as the score was the lack of Haitian fans (maybe 1,500) among the crowd of 12,253. This is a team that drew 25,000 for a Gold Cup game against the United States two years ago. Haitian fans are so passionate about their teams they regularly sell out 7,000-seat Ted Hendricks Stadium in Hialeah for amateur Copa Latina matches.

Nearly 10,000 Haitians showed up Friday night for a 2-0 loss to Canada. So where were they for a rare victory over a South American team?

Several Haitian officials and journalists attributed the poor turnout to ticket prices ($20-$40).

``A lot of Haitian fans would love to be here, but they can't because they couldn't afford to pay $20 Friday and another $20 tonight, plus $10 parking for each game,'' said Dominique Junior Alexis, president of Prestige Magazine, a Haitian publication. ``You're talking about people who make $6 an hour. They can't pay these prices, so they had to pick, and they chose to come Friday. It's a shame they missed this.''

``But if we make the quarterfinals, they'll find a way to come.''

Haiti will clinch a spot in Saturday's quarterfinals if Ecuador fails to beat Canada by two goals Tuesday night. Ecuadoran coach Hernan Dario Gómez didn't sound overly confident.

``We were not prepared for this tournament, and I see us in a very difficult position,'' Gómez said. ``I knew we had been dormant and we'd come in out of shape, but I didn't think it would be this bad. But sometimes, as [former Colombian coach] Francisco Maturana says, when you lose, you win a little. This could end up unifying our team. We have to get serious and learn from this.''

It isn't every day a Caribbean team beats a team headed to the World Cup, even if that team was missing three key players. Ecuador finished second in South American World Cup qualifying behind Argentina, and three spots ahead of Brazil.

``In soccer, there are no surprises,'' he said. ``It hurts to lose, but to say it was a surprise is to take away from the Haitian effort. All that matters is what happens on the field.''

Ecuador -- missing Jaime Ivan Kaviedes, Agustin Delgado and Ulises de la Cruz -- fell behind 1-0 in the seventh minute on an own-goal by defender Edison Mendez, who was trying to clear a crossing pass.

Things would only get worse. Ecuadoran defender Raul Guerron was ejected in the 31st minute, and Haiti went up 2-0 on a header by 19-year-old Charles Alerte Jr. in stoppage time before intermission.

It was clear at that point Ecuador was out of form and Haiti could play better than it did in Friday's loss.

``A group of 26 players together just 60 days just beat the second-place team of South America, a team with important players and an extraordinary coach,'' said Haitian coach Alexandre Guimaraes, an Argentine. ``I have to pay homage to these players, who are changing the history of Haitian soccer.''

Guimaraes, who signed a five-year contract in the fall, is determined to get the team into the 2006 World Cup. Haiti has been in one World Cup -- in 1974.

``We are taking slow steps, but I am very encouraged by what I see,'' he said. ``I'm in it for the long haul.''

In the earlier game, short-handed Trinidad and Tobago earned a 1-1 tie with a stoppage-time penalty kick by Stern John, the former Columbus Crew forward who now plays for Nottingham Forest in England. Costa Rican Luis Marin elbowed Collin Samuel going up for a header in the corner of the box, giving the ``Soca Warriors'' the chance to tie.

Costa Rica, which had 13 shots to Trinidad's six, scored in the 59th minute on a goal by Ronaldo Fonseca off a nice pass from Mauricio Solis. Trinidadian Arnold Dwarika was ejected in the 65th minute, but Costa Rica couldn't capitalize.

``This win will give a lot of self-confidence to our team,'' Trinidad coach Rene Simoes said. ``We played with courage and deserved to get a point.''