Haiti 2 Bermuda 1
Bermuda’s players looked a dejected bunch as they made their way back to the dressing room at the Estadio Nacional after succumbing to a second-half revival from Haiti.
Their heads, however, were held high, and rightly so. Bermuda had done themselves and their island proud.
They fully deserved their one-goal lead by virtue of a Danté Leverock header on the stroke of half-time but were undone by chief tormentor Derrick Etienne, a second-half substitute, who had a hand in both of Frantzdy Pierrot’s goals.
Haiti, a team ranked 101st in the Fifa rankings, 73 places above Bermuda, and winners of the tournament in 1973, were heavy favourites heading into the group B curtain-raiser.
They had, after all, finished top of the Concacaf Nations League qualifying standings with four successive victories, including a 2-0 win over Nicaragua, whom Bermuda meet in their final group game next Monday.
It was Bermuda, however, who looked the superior side during a stirring first-half performance, as they dominated Haiti, creating — and missing — a hatful of scoring opportunities.
Such was their profligacy in front of goal, relief rather than unbridled joy was the overriding emotion when Leverock, the Bermuda captain, headed home Osagi Bascome’s left-wing corner right before the interval.
“We created many chances in the first half, but we didn’t take them,” Kyle Lightbourne, the Bermuda coach, said. “My biggest disappointment was that we didn’t hit the target. We got in some very good positions. I can remember four or five chances in the first half. If we take them, it’s a different ballgame.”
Aside from an early scare when Pierrot blazed over when bearing down on goal, Bermuda outplayed their opponents during the first period and could have put the game out of reach had they shown greater composure in the critical moments.
Zeiko Lewis was at his impish best, driving through the middle after being put through by Lejuan Simmons before firing straight at Johnny Placide, the Haiti goalkeeper.
The diminutive wide man went close again moments later, linking up well with Calon Minors down the left before befuddling his marker with a piece of skill so audacious it drew an audible gasp from the crowd.
His brazen trickery was undermined, however, by another finish that lacked any real conviction, as he squirted his effort wide with the outside of his left boot.
Nahki Wells was the next to find himself with a clear sight of goal. The talismanic striker created space inside the box after a clever one-two, but, he too, let Haiti off the hook, slicing his shot horribly wide.
A virtual bystander for most of the first half, Dale Eve, the Bermuda goalkeeper, had to be alert to palm Pierrot’s scissor kick over the bar during a rare Haiti attack.
Leverock did at least ensure Bermuda had something to show for their first-half ascendancy when he stole a march on his marker to plant a header into the bottom corner.
Whatever words Marc Callot, the Haiti coach, said to his players at half-time certainly seemed to have had their desired effect, as did his decision to introduce Etienne, whose pace and vision changed the entire complexion of the game.
Pierrot looked far more threatening after the break, as Haiti switched to two strikers, moving Duckens Nazon into a more central position to accommodate Etienne.
The New York Red Bulls forward, a former team-mate of Lewis, was simply the spark that ignited Haiti’s comeback; his mere presence appeared to lift his team-mates, who raised their tempo and began moving the ball with pace and purpose.
“We knew about their No 11 [Etienne],” Lightbourne added. “He was a big difference when he came on. They utilised the flanks a lot better. We tried to shut him down but, on the day, he was the difference between the two teams.”
There was a sense of inevitability when Haiti levelled in the 54th minute courtesy of an Etienne free kick, delivered to the back post and headed in by Pierrot.
The free kick was taken by Steven Sabat, with Etienne making a decoy run that worked to perfection
Etienne, again, was the orchestrator of Pierrot’s second goal in the 66th minute, twisting and turning the hapless Donte Brangman before cutting the ball back for Nazon, who forced a fine save from Eve. Unfortunately for Bermuda, the loose ball fell invitingly into the path of Pierrot, who had peeled away from defender Jaylon Bather and made no mistake from close range.
Eve was in fine form, twice denying Etienne with an outstretched boot to keep his side in the game. Surely it is only a matter of time before the former Stoke City prospect makes a return to the professional ranks. On this evidence, in arguably the biggest game in Bermuda’s footballing history, he is too good to be playing at the domestic level.
Bermuda offered little in the way of attacking intent in the second half other than a half-chance from Milan Butterfield, which he snatched at, thus continuing a frustrating trend from the first half. Their hopes of advancing to the quarter-finals of the competition, as one of the top two qualifiers, are now hanging by the slightest of threads.
“A lot of good things have come out of that game,” Lightbourne added. “I think we surprised a few people with the way we played and I’m proud of my team even though we lost. It’s about us building and getting better. That’s the most important thing for me.”
There is no escaping that this was a missed opportunity for Lightbourne’s side. Perhaps that in itself represents a small victory for the smallest nation competing at the tournament.
Haiti: Pierrot 54, 66
Bermuda Leverock 45+2
Haiti (4-5-1): J Placide — C Arcus, R Ade, M Jerome (sub: J Geffrard, 14min), W Guerrier — B Alceus, Z Herivaux, C Herold (sub: D Etienne, 46), S Sabat, D Nazon (sub: J Desire, 87) — F Pierrot. Substitutes not used: A Alexis, H Bazile, J Duverger, B Bissainthe, M Cantave, A Jean-Baptiste, D Clerveaux, A Christian, I Simon. Booked: Guerrier.
Bermuda (4-2-3-1): D Eve — D Brangman, D Leverock, J Bather, C Minors — O Bascome (sub: J Smith, 76), W Clemons — L Simmons (sub: J Donawa, 58), R Lambe (sub: M Butterfield, 62), Z Lewis — N Wells. Substitutes not used: C Basden, R Lee, J Harvey, J Hill, C Robinson, T Ming, L Evans, M Warren, Q Hunt. Booked: Donawa.
Referee: D Parchment (Jamaica).
• Stephen Wright travelled to San José, Costa Rica, courtesy of JetBlue, which provided flights between Bermuda, Boston, Orlando and San José. Flights available at www.jetblue.com