Haiti’s Women’s World Cup debut on Saturday can have “a very big impact” on a country that “is suffering at the moment”, their captain Nerilia Mondesir said ahead of their match against European champions England.
While many teams at the World Cup have had to fight for recognition and resources, the Haitians have had to overcome the additional challenges afflicting the Caribbean nation.
Haiti is the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country and has for years been mired in a vicious cycle of political, humanitarian, economic and health crises.
Add in brutal gang violence, and the United Nations’ top human rights official earlier this year described Haiti’s multiple problems as a “living nightmare”.
All that means the team’s exploits in reaching the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand go beyond sport, Mondesir said on Friday.
“I think it can have a very big impact,” she told reporters in Brisbane of their World Cup debut.
“The country is suffering at the moment and we’re trying with football to represent the country the best we can and give everything for this shirt.
“And try to help people think of something else other than all the troubles we have in the country.”
Because of the strife in their homeland, Haiti were forced to hold training camps and home games in neighbouring Dominican Republic.
They sealed their first ever World Cup place by beating Chile in a playoff in New Zealand in February.
Haiti are in Group D alongside China, Denmark and Saturday’s opponents England and it would be a shock if a young squad progresses to the knockout rounds.
But in the 19-year-old attacking midfielder Melchie Dumornay they have one of the rising stars of women’s football, and Mondesir is relishing the challenge on the biggest stage of all.
“To be here today, I can’t explain… it’s a lot of emotions,” she said.
“We are very, very happy to be here. We are proud to be here.
“It’s crazy, it’s amazing for us.”