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Haitian national soccer team takes on Harvard

Haitian national soccer team takes on Harvard

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Haiti’s rabid soccer fans will get to see their national team play in Boston for the second year in a row as the island nation’s premiere squad takes on the Harvard men’s team on Sunday at 5 p.m.

The match last year drew over 11,000 spectators to historic Harvard Stadium. The mostly Haitian crowd cheered on the national team to a 0-0 regulation tie, with Haiti downing the Crimson 4-1 on penalty kicks.

Like last year’s game, the contest will benefit Partners for Health, the renowned Boston-based medical charity, which is currently fighting an outbreak of cholera in Haiti and helping to rebuild the country’s health system from the devastating 2010 earthquake centered near Port-au-Prince.

Haiti’s consul general in New York praised the “Haiti Leve” (Haiti rising) event for raising much-needed resources for Haiti and focusing attention on the continuing need for assistance in a country still rebuilding from the catastrophe that left over 200,000 people dead and over a million displaced.

The Haitian national team, which will also play Dartmouth during a five-day swing through New England, is currently ranked 72nd out of 205 nations belonging to FIFA, the world’s soccer governing body. Haiti, coached by Edson Tavares, last qualified for the World Cup in 1974, and won the 2007 Caribbean Nations Cup.

Often outmatched by much larger nations, Haiti has nevertheless produced outstanding players on the world stage, including current U.S. national team star Jozy Altidore. Joe Gaetjens, a Columbia accounting student moonlighting as a dishwasher in New York City, was recruited to play on the U.S. national team and scored the only goal in the stunning 1-0 victory over top-ranked England in the 1950 World Cup, which is considered the greatest upset in the history of sports.

“No one matches our spirit,” said Guy Francois, a Boston cab driver who played soccer as a boy in the dusty streets of Delmas near the Haitian capital. “We love the game.”

Two days before the Haiti match, the Crimson will face off against a team of local Cape Verdean all stars to benefit the Cape Verdean Football Federation and Coaches Across Continents, an award-winning global development group launched by Harvard graduates that uses soccer as a teaching tool in African villages.

Visa denials kept the Cape Verdean national team from traveling to the U.S. for a match against Harvard. The Cape Verdean All Stars game kicks off on Friday at 7 p.m.

The Harvard team, coached by Carl Junot, has a strong international tradition. Its playing field is named for Chris Ohiri, a Nigerian who broke every Harvard and Ivy League scoring records during his soccer career in the early 1960s.