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a510: Haitians find release in soccer (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Haitians find release in soccer
Gold Cup game a nice diversion

Haiti's national soccer team took on World Cup qualifier Costa Rica on
Saturday in the Gold Cup, giving many Haitians in South Florida a chance to
forget for three hours the turmoil afflicting their small Caribbean nation.

When Haiti scored in the 16th minute of the second half at the Orange Bowl
in Miami, tying the score at 1-1, the Haitian contingent -- about two-thirds
of the 14,283 fans -- erupted in cheers and shouts of ``Haiti, Haiti,

Fans jumped up and down in the aisles, blasted air horns and waved their
homeland's red and blue flag with the Haitian coat of arms.

Ultimately, Costa Rica won 2-1 in overtime. But even the chance to compete
was a sweet moment for the Haitians, long the underdogs in both World Cup
and Gold Cup competition. The Gold Cup competition occurs every two years
among 38 national associations from Canada to Suriname and Ecuador in South


The quarterfinal game came at a time when Haiti has been preoccupied with
political murders, an apparent failed coup attempt against President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide and economic hard times.

Haiti's last glory in world soccer events was in 1974 when the team led
world champion Italy for six minutes before losing 3-1 in the World Cup. To
this day that is considered the greatest six minutes in Haitian soccer

Haiti had defeated Ecuador 2-0 to advance to play Costa Rica, whose noisy,
drum-beating fans dominated the stands in the first half of the game. About
4,700 Costa Ricans and 98,000 Haitians live in Miami-Dade County, according
to the U.S. Census.


Some residents in Miami's Little Haiti said Saturday that they see soccer as
a way of celebrating the fact that they are Haitians or of Haitian descent.

``For me, it is Haiti first even if I disagree with Aristide,'' said Jean
Valbrun before the game.

``If Haiti wins there will be a party. People will forget the bad things,''
said Julien Albert. ``Even if our national team does not win, there will be
a good party.''

There was, however, no outward sign of festivities in Little Haiti on
Saturday before the afternoon game. ``If Haiti wins I will be happy,'' said
author Dany Laferriere. ``But otherwise, I don't have much interest.''

Jean Fleury said he, too, would ``have a very good day'' if Haiti's team was
victorious. He said he would have liked to go to the game ``but I have a job
and I have to feed my family.''

Community activist Marie Nazaire also said she had to work.

``But my family in Gonaives will be listening to the game on the radio,''
she said. ``I am sure the whole street will be following what happens.
[Soccer] is our national game so it is natural for us to pay attention.''

Although not as colorful as the Costa Ricans, the Haitians nonetheless got
very loud when their team did well. They filled the northwest corner of the

Even at halftime, with their team trailing 1-0, Haitian fans said they felt
certain of victory. When Haiti tied the score, the crowd erupted.


Some said they came just to watch soccer. But many said they came to take
their mind off the suffering of the people in their homeland.

``From the morning start, and up until now, we forget about everything that
is going on at home,'' said Philius Laurent. ``This team is something to be
very proud of.''

Jackson Tinopcin said he has several family members in Haiti. He said the
game gave everyone a few hours to stop thinking about their problems.

``We are very happy when the Haitians play. They make the country and the
community feel better,'' he said.

``[The game] means a lot because soccer is the number one sport in our
country,'' Guy LaFrance of Hollywood said. ``I have family in Haiti and they
are all joining together to watch this. It gives us a feeling of pride.''

Asked how important its showing in this tournament was to the community, top
Haitian striker Gilbert Jean-Baptiste didn't hesitate.

``It means a lot,'' he said. ``It's a great thing for the community, the
team and the country. After the first half of the Ecuador game, we were
winning 2-0, and it was a carnival down there in Haiti. Not every country
has people in the streets dancing at halftime.''

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