GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Haiti earned one of the biggest wins in its soccer history, rallying from two goals down to beat Canada and reach the Gold Cup semifinals for the first time.
Next up for Les Grenadiers is a monumental task: trying to take down mighty Mexico in the desert.
Coming off two comeback victories over Costa Rica and Canada, Haiti hopes to keep its dream run going against an El Tri team that has dominated the Gold Cup.
The winner will play defending champion United States or Jamaica in the Gold Cup final Saturday in Chicago.
“There will be no pressure on the players to beat Mexico,” Haiti coach Marc Collat said through a translator Monday at State Farm Stadium. “It is an extraordinary occasion for Haiti to be in the semifinals of the Gold Cup and I believe the players are ready for this event.”
Haiti reached the World Cup in 1974, but has had a spotty record since.
Les Grenadiers reached the Gold Cup quarterfinals three times, but could never make it past into the semifinals, including a 2009 loss to Mexico.
With a roster made up of players born in countries around the world, Haiti has overcome the sometimes-difficult task of overcoming language barriers — they speak everything from Creole to Portuguese — to meld into the biggest surprise of the Gold Cup draw.
Haiti opened the group stage with a 2-1 win over Bermuda, beat Nicaragua 2-0 and had the biggest surprise of the tournament with its 2-1 comeback victory over Costa Rica to win its group.
Les Grenadiers appeared to be in trouble against Canada in the quarterfinals last week, trailing 2-0 at halftime. After an inspiring halftime speech by Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Haiti rallied with three goals in the second half to provide some of its own inspiration to a country that is still, in some ways, trying to recover from the massive 2011 earthquake.
“The players know they are not only playing for their team, for their federation, but for their country,” Collat said.
They will face a stiff challenge in the semifinals.
Mexico has won three of the past four Gold Cup titles, seven of 14 overall and this year reached the Gold Cup semifinals for the seventh straight tournament.
El Tri stomped Cuba 7-0 to open this year’s group stage, rolled over Canada 3-1 and beat Martinique 3-2 to win their group.
Mexico had a tougher time against Costa Rica in the quarterfinals, winning 5-4 on penalty kicks in Houston after playing to a 1-1 draw in regulation. Guillermo Ochoa denied Keysher Fuller on Costa Rica’s final kick of the shootout to send El Tri back into the Gold Cup semifinals.
Now Mexico faces a plucky Haitian team that will go into the game as heavy underdogs.
“We never run from being the favorites,” Mexico coach Gerardo Martino said through a translator. “Whatever happens in the competition, we don’t worry about it.”
Mexico should have a massive atmospheric advantage at State Farm Stadium, where El Tri is always a huge draw.
With the border just a few hours away, Mexico typically plays to massive crowds in Arizona, including a rowdy 2016 Copa America game against Uruguay at then-University of Phoenix Stadium.
It should be no different Tuesday night, when more than 60,0000 fans — most of them Mexico supporters — fill State Farm Stadium.
“We always feel like we are the home team,” Martino said. “The crowd going crazy during the penalty kicks in Houston got us going. Everything that happens in the U.S. and in Mexico is always going to be in our favor.”
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