Day Ten: Cuba is Going Down
Today started with a little jog and stretch. Had a little breakfast afterwards. The whole day was consumed with thoughts of the game to come. How is it going to go, will we come out on top, will we make Haiti proud? All I could do was hope and pray we would kill it today.
Everything was set to start the game. We were lined up under the tunnel and waiting…waiting to see who’s going to get an all expense paid trip to Trinidad and be one step closer to the World Cup. Then one of my captains starts a chant, our echoes were so loud we can hear the huge crowd react. Then, just inches away is their respective line, Cuba chants back. We were polite enough to let them finish their little cheer before we blasted one right back at them. This continued back and forth, chant after chant. Now, some people use pump up playlists to get them excited to play…think of your best one, and the most pumped up you have ever been…then times that by a gazzillion and that’s how this tunnel was for both teams. You can tell both of us were ready to fight and ready to represent our countries with pride.
Cuba came out strong! Now, I’m gonna go into a little tactics for you soccer scholars out there, if it bores you, just skip to the next paragraph. Against Suriname, we played a 4-4-2 and we had a very high line of pressure. We pressed strategically and our forwards man marked their outside backs and made their center backs the play makers. As outside mids, we stood in the gap between their outside mids and our center mids and invited them to try and play to their outside players. We of course picked off those passes and went straight to goal. Flash forward to today’s strategy. The polar opposite on pressure. We set our line of confrontation pretty far back and low pressed around the half way line until they played into the center mids and the we pressed and made them play back. They really didn’t know how to solve this. The center backs were forced to dump balls into our backs as a last resort and we would receive them facing forward and counter.
Ok, back to the juicy details. Our first chance on goal was from yours truly. Our left outside mid sent a ball into the muck of us rushing the goal, one of my forwards went up for it and I quickly said to leave it and the ball perfectly connected with my head. Now, I usually give credit to keepers where it’s due, but in this case she seemed more like she tried to protect her face and just happened to save this from going in. There were many more chances like this as we tried to counter, but our main concern was not letting them score. We beat Suriname 3-0 and they beat them 2-0, so with a draw, we advance. There were some seriously shaky moments where we weren’t playing the better soccer, but all of the sudden, it changed. Something shifted. We started to win more and more 50-50 balls. We started catching them on their heals and started getting more chances on goal. But, even with that shift in power, we went into halftime 0-0 (but that really means we were winning).
Second half started very similarly to the first. I was switched over to the left side to take a run at that back. The first play we get, a cross comes in over both center backs and right in front of the outside back on my side. I leap into the air passed her (she had about 4 inches on me in height) and somehow she clips me and what I thought was going to be the best header goal I ever scored, instead, with a little help from her nudge, was quite the face ball. I recovered quickly and we started to really go at them. Close chances, a couple threaded through balls, but we were once again plagued with no goals. Cuba started to get a little fatigued and with fatigue came a lot more fouls. On one in particular, Wiseline, one of my favorite center mids ever, sent a flighted ball straight into the run one of our forward. She jumped as high as her little legs could permit, but just couldn’t get there. But wait, the defender behind her jumped as well. And all of the sudden, the ball passes my forward and connects with that defender’s head and the ball goes sailing straight into the goal!!!! We couldn’t believe it! It was 39 minutes into the second half and because our forward had such high hopes and a pretty inaccurate expectation of her vertical, she enticed her defender to jump with her creating that own goal! The crowd, our team, (I’m pretty sure the refs too) went WILD!!!! For that last 6-7 minutes of this game, we fought and fought to hold that win! And we did. And Haiti has qualified for the next round of World Cup Qualifiers!!!!
Now all of that is pretty amazing if you ask me, but it wasn’t my favorite part of the celebration. What was, was that player who took that free kick. The second the whistle blew and she knew her goal carried us through to the next stage, she took a knee and gathered us all up to pray. For someone who just scored a goal to advance her country to the next step in the World Cup, IN her country to immediately kneel down after the game to pray and give someone else the credit…I mean, thats a different kind of humble. You don’t have to be religious to be inspired by that. She could’ve done a victory lap pointing to herself, and the crowd would’ve went crazy. But she didn’t, she grabbed her team and knelt us all down to give glory to someone else. I can’t tell you how much I respect her for this, and for so many other reasons!
And that’s that! The crowd was unbelievable! Our team was spectacular and I can’t even explain how happy everyone was. I’m still whirling from it all now! We came, we conquered, and now we can sleep well tonight. Just tonight though, because tomorrow, we start refocusing because there’s more work to be done for Haiti on this journey to the 2015 Women’s World Cup!
As I post these pictures, Sam is in Haiti playing against Cuba! We should have updates of the game by tonight!! In the meantime, she thought you’d all like to see a few pics of where she’s been living and training this past week. Enjoy!
Day Nine: Preparing for Another Fight
Today was all about staying in the shade and trying to relax after our match yesterday. We had a lot of hanging out, even invented a few silly games to occupy our time. I made them both up. The first one, you had to throw a rock through a specific part of a chain link fence, and the second, stay with me now, was trying to throw balled up paper into a cup in front of the person across from you. The second was invented because the first was an outdoor game and it got way too hot outside. Although these may seem silly, you would be surprised at how much fun and addicting they were, kind of like an all natural anti-technology angry bird game. Just good old fashioned fun with my teammates.
Other than a couple meals, today was mostly dedicated to just recovering and refocusing. I definitely saw a change in the interactions of the different teams today. Suriname seemed a lot more relaxed and even had a little party this evening. I got to speak in broken English and Spanish with one of the Cuban center mids, Laura. She’s been very nice this whole time and is definitely my favorite.
During one of these interactions, one of the Suriname players said she’s betting that Cuba would beat us tomorrow, even joked and said she is going to bet her car they will. I say, bring that bet on, but I’m a little concerned. Not that we won’t win, but concerned for how much it’s going to cost her to ship me her car all the way from Suriname to Dublin, Ca.
I’m excited to play again tomorrow and for the battle that is to be Haiti vs Cuba.
Day Eight: GAME DAY!
33′ – Sam Brand
55′ – Wisline Dolce
78′ – Manoucheka Pierre-Louis
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