Haiti’s national team has only gone to the World Cup once. It lost every game and scored only two goals. But one of them was the most famous and cherished goal in the country’s history, scored by Manno Sanon on a streaking breakaway against Italy. All of Haiti shook, a friend once told me, as everyone jumped at once. There used to be a mural—partly destroyed by the 2010 earthquake—that captured the importance of this moment for Haiti’s national pride. It showed four large portraits side-by-side: Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the country’s founder, Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, and Manno Sanon.
Decades earlier, another Haitian player had scored another legendary World Cup goal: Joe Gaetjens, whose header in Belo Horizonte against England secured a shock victory for the U.S. It is still probably the most famous single goal in our country’s footballing history, and it was scored by a man who was a Haitian citizen at the time. He wasn’t actually the only foreigner on the team—regulations about such things were far more lax then—and he soon returned to Haiti, where he opened a dry-cleaning business and coached youth soccer. Then, in 1964, he was taken from his home one day by Francois Duvalier’s police, and disappeared. His story, told beautifully in a long essay by Alexander Wolff in 2010, is a haunting one.
Haitians can root for their team in CONCACAF qualifiers and in their Gold Cup appearances, but in the World Cup—like most people around the globe—they have their proxy teams. Brazil is by far the most popular one, but there is a strong pro-Argentinian group, and a smaller one that roots for France.
In this World Cup, however, they also have two members of the Haitian diaspora to root for: Jean Beausejour of Chile, who scored a phenomenal goal in his team’s first match, and Jozy Altidore, the striker on whose shoulders the fate of the U.S. team largely depends. So, in another one of those odd surprises offered up by the World Cup, you can root for Haiti by rooting for the U.S. and Chile. Think of it as football pan-Americanism.
Laurent Dubois is Director of the Forum for Scholars and Publics at Duke University, author of Soccer Empire: The World Cup and the Future of France, and editor of the Soccer Politics blog.