HARRISON, NJ -- The headline grabbing Haitian national team starts its 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup campaign against highly regarded Honduras on Monday at Red Bull Arena.
Haiti comes into the competition on a high after fighting back from two goals down in Rio Janeiro to draw 2-2 with powerful Italy last month. Just days before that encounter, Les Grenadiers dropped a narrow 2-1 decision World Cup champion Spain in Miami.
While head coach Israel Blake Cantero is happy with the recent results, as well as a successful training camp in Canada, he views the team as a work in progress.
“I know people are excited and impressed with our play recently, especially against Italy, but I tell the guys and the people that they were just friendlies and what we want to achieve for Haitian football is bigger than that,” Cantero told CONCACAF.com. “We want to be competitive at tournaments such as this (the Gold Cup) and continue to rise to a high standard of football.”
Cantero is taking nothing away from the team’s recent achievements, but he wants his players to stay focused on the larger picture of doing well at the Gold Cup
And that is exactly the perspective Orlando City’s Jean-Marc Alexandre is taking on CONCACAF’s premier event.
“It is a good feeling to see so many people happy,” commented the midfielder/forward. “But whatever we have done so far and hope to do at this Gold Cup, we play for the people of Haiti and carry them with us.”
Honduras, despite the downplaying of its head coach Luis Fernando Suarez, is considered by many observers as favorite to win the group. Some key players are missing through injury and other reasons, but the Colombian believes his team will perform at a high standard.
“(Goalkeeper) Noel (Valladares) is not here right now, nor is (goalkeeper) Donis (Escober) and some of our midfielders got injured during the month of June, but I am happy with what the midfielders who have been called up are doing at practice,” said the 53-year-old.
It will be the second-ever Gold Cup meeting between Haiti and Honduras. The Central Americans won a 2009 group stage match, 1-0, in Seattle. Carlo Costly netted the game-winning goal with 14 minutes left in regulation.