With new coach, Haiti looks to make big impression

Haiti (pictured) trains at the Estadio Rommel Fernandez in Panama City, Panama, on January 7, 2016, in advance of its Copa America Centenario play-in match against Trinidad & Tobago. (Photo: Mexsport)

PANAMA CITY, Panama – After opening the fourth round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup with two straight 1-0 losses, Haiti and head coach Marc Collat parted ways. 

With only a short time to prepare for its Copa America Centenario play-in match, Patrice Neveu – a former national team manager of DR Congo, Niger and Mauritania -- was named as the replacement. 

The 61-year-old Frenchman has proven to be a quick study and fully realizes the significance of Haiti earning a berth in historic competition, when it faces Trinidad & Tobago on Friday at the Estadio Rommel Fernandez. 

“Obviously, we have the first mission of qualifying for the Copa America,” Neveu said at a press conference on Thursday. “I haven’t been in charge of Haiti for too long. I have seen that the players are hard workers. 

“It’s important for me as well on a personal level. It’s important in terms of the team starting off well and qualifying for something as important as the Copa America. It’s an important challenge. I know that I’ve taken charge of what’s a good team.” 

A key member of the squad is India-based defender Frantz Bertin, who played in three games for Les Grenadiers during their run to the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinals. The 32-year-old knows that the prize of a Copa America berth will require a complete effort against a long-time Caribbean rival. 

“It’s a very important game for Haiti,” said Bertin. “We’re going to have to work hard for the 90 minutes. Trinidad is a team with a lot of ability, lots of physical strength. We’ve watched video of them. It’s a team that’s very strong on the ball.” 

With a new head coach at the helm and coming off a pair of narrow setbacks, one could be forgiven for thinking that the Haitians would experience an adjustment period. According to Bertin, however, preparations have gone smoothly. 

“The players understand the importance of this game,” the former OFI Crete standout expressed. “It’s a one-off game, but we’ve gone on about it relatively similar to the way we go about things in general.” 

Regardless of what has transpired with the side over the last six weeks, Haiti has only one goal in mind: to be among the 16 teams at the Copa America Centenario. 

“Every player knows what’s at stake for the country,” Bertin finished. “We want to win. We have to take advantage of this chance, but we have to do things well. That’s the way we approached training. That’s what we’re ready to show tomorrow and take advantage of this opportunity that we have.”