stars foster hope

Revolution once again haunts the streets of Haiti but this time people don't speak in hushed tones of darker times, dictatorship and fear. The topic is more exciting - the football revolution.

Revolution once again haunts the streets of Haiti but this time people don't speak in hushed tones of darker times, dictatorship and fear. The topic is more exciting - the football revolution.

It's been 33 years of continual political strife since striker Manno Sanon sent the small Caribbean nation with wild excitement when he scored the opening goal against Italy, at the 1974 World Cup in Germany.

The Haitian supporters enjoyed the six minutes of rage before the Italians won 3-1. However football remains a passion in Haiti.

This year fans of football will once again see Haitian players taking a bow on the international stage at the under-17 World Cup in South Korea.

Dominic Vorbe, brother of the 1974 captain, Philippe, witnessed the tournaments. "There was great excitement when the team qualified. The entire country was behind them, similarly everyone is proud of the under-17 team.

"Football is a religion in Haiti. Even during great hardship, you will always find a soccer game being played," says Dominic.

Coach Jean Yves Labaze sees the country's qualification for the competition as a source of pride and excitement. "Everyone would love to participate in the World Cup. It is a huge achievement for our country. We are going to participate and win," says Labaze.

Haiti shares Hispaniola, the Caribbean Island, with neighbouring Dominican Republic. It is the second poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere and ranked 154th of the 177 countries in the UN's 2006 Human Development Index. With 80 percent of the nation living in hopeless poverty, it is a long road to revolution, but despite that, football's pulse continues to hit strongly in Haiti.

The flight and exile of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide during 2004 and presence of the UN began to show signs of a brighter future. The nation's recovery at political, social and economic level is reflected by results on the field while the squad of young talent is fostering hope across the nation.

Fabien Vorbe, key goal scorer for the under-17 says, "People always talk about Haiti's misfortunes, however, the fact that we are in this tournament means that the country is improving."

The team has only basic facilities and infrastructure at their disposal. On Aristide's departure, the Haitian Ranch Football Training Centre was destroyed during the splurge of destruction that swept the country. "It hurt to see the football centre destroyed. We had to rebuild it from the foundation. We received funding from the FIFA Goal programme to improve our facilities," says Dominic Vorbe.

Scars of the post-Aristide turmoil lie openly on the landscape and are clearly visible on the headquarters of the Federation and the Ranch, which Is only rebuilt halfway.

Antoine Dorair, head of the Ranch Training Facility says, "When the state collapsed, it was unable to support the Federation, this football suffered greatly.

"However, I see a positive future with investments in infrastructure and coaching. With the new buildings, we can accommodate the entire team. Haitian football will step up a gear on national and international level.

The world of football should not underestimate the Haitian Under-17 team.

A warm up match took place at Stad Sylvyo Kato, where the Haitian team hosted Cleveland City Stars, a US college side, fighting the odds of age, size and power the Haitians played a good game in front of a boisterous home crowd, 2-1.

Their valiant performance gave them a 2-1 victory.

Stars coach, Rich Mears was somewhat disturbed as he asked for the Under-23 team hoping they could get a good game. His team consists of top college players aged between 18-23 years. Their captain played for the national Zambian team.

There is a lesson to be learned for those to face the Haitian team, who played as a group since they were age eleven, thus they have perfected their game through the years. During their free time the team marvel at the skills of Lionel Messi and his team members. While they admire this great team, they are going to play the Under-17 World Cup their own way.

Striker Charles Herold Junior, states, "The team is determined to succeed and will not crumple in front of a bigger audience as they previously played in front of 40000 people in Honduras where they were cheered and booed, which was not a problem."

Haiti is blessed with natural football talent. But it needs to be relieved of the political instability and need funding in order to progress.

When the Haitian team walked out to play its first under-17 World Cup match, they were beaten 3-1 by Japan and now face the equally tough French and Nigerian teams.

The Haitians are on the world stage and will continue to stick to their core attributes - "respect the game and enjoy it, thereafter everything else will flow naturally."