The best 32 women’s soccer teams in the world will compete for triumph in Australia and New Zealand on July 20. Some of those 32 are well-known. The United States, for example, will be defending champions, while England, South Africa, Brazil, and China will be continental champions.
However, some teams–eight in total–are totally new, making their World Cup debuts in 2023. And none of them has a more crazy, heavy, or inspiring story than Haiti.
The Haitian Women’s Soccer Team, often known as Les Grenadières, made it to the 2023 World Cup after surviving a grueling qualification procedure. Haiti advanced to play the strongest teams in North America after a series of blowout wins against its Caribbean neighbors (one of which it won 21-0). It struggled against teams like the United States, but held on to defeat Costa Rica 4-2 to earn a position in the World Cup intercontinental playoffs.
This sent Haiti to Auckland, New Zealand, where it faced two must-win games against Senegal and Chile. Haiti defeated Senegal 4-0, but Chile proved to be a far more difficult opponent, pushing Haiti to the edge and keeping the game tight.
But Haiti refused to submit. As the time approached zero, striker Melchie Dumornay blasted in a goal from an unbelievable angle to give Haiti the win and seal its place in its first World Cup.
🇭🇹 HAITI ARE IN! 🇭🇹
— Women’s Sports Exchange (@wsportsxchange) February 22, 2023
“It means a lot to be able to make history,” Haitian footballer Milan Pierre-Jerome told Bloomberg. “I really appreciate you putting Haiti out there in this positive light.”
To say that Haiti has had a terrible few years would be an understatement. The country is still recovering from the terrible 2010 earthquake. In the summer of 2021, President Jovenel Mose was slain, sparking horrific street warfare and gang upheavals throughout the capital, Port-au-Prince. Haiti is also experiencing a food crisis, with the UN classifying the country as ‘catastrophic’ on its global hunger scale.
But it’s also been a particularly challenging few years for Haiti’s women’s soccer program. Former Haitian Football Association president Yves-Jean Bart was barred from the sport in 2020 after solid claims arose of him sexually abusing female soccer players. His lawful departure caused havoc in Haitian soccer, with numerous domestic leagues postponing play in his absence. As a result, Haiti’s World Cup team is made up entirely of players from outside the country, and the team was unable to play home games at its own stadiums, opting instead to compete in the Dominican Republic.
To make matters worse, FIFA just reversed Bart’s ban due to witness intimidation concerns.
On top of that, the Haitian national team has no sponsors or outside funding to assist it compete in the World Cup. It will get a portion of FIFA’s $30.7 million cash to assist its delegation in traveling to Oceania, but once that money is depleted, it is gone forever.
However, Haiti is not given up.
“All we need is a ball, some cleats, and some shin guards,” Pierre-Jerome explained. “All of those things on the outside don’t really matter.”
Haiti is in Group D and will play China, Denmark, and England in their first three games. Les Grenadières’ path to the next round will not be easy, but given all they’ve been through to get here, they’re not worried.
“If we stay positive and play together, we will make history,” said goalie Kerly Theus. “I believe we have the potential to shock the world.”