Milan Pierre-Jerome of Haiti (right) fights for the ball against Senegal in a World Cup warm-up match on February 18, 2023 in Auckland, New Zealand.

Milan Pierre-Jerome of Haiti (right) fights for the ball against Senegal in a World Cup warm-up match on February 18, 2023 in Auckland, New Zealand.

Hannah Peters /FIFA/Getty Images

Auckland, New Zealand

Haiti may only have a slim chance of advancing to the knockout stages, but the team say they won’t go down without a fight Tuesday as some players draw on family history to lay down a legacy on their Women’s World Cup debut.

Ahead of their Group D match against Denmark, Haiti midfielder Danielle Etienne, 22 – whose father Derrick played for the men’s national team – says her family are right behind her.

“I know I’m making my grandfather proud, I’m making my parents proud as well,” Etienne told CNN after a training session Sunday.

Etienne joined Haiti’s youth set-up at age 14 and represented the team at the U-20 Women’s World Cup in 2018 – the first time a Caribbean nation has appeared in that tournament.

She says her grandfather in particular has been invested in her soccer journey.

“He calls my dad after every game to get an update and check in,” she said. “He always says thank you which I think is kind of ironic because it’s like ‘Thank you for being Haitian so I can play for the national team’. But he always says thank you for representing my country.”

Etienne’s fellow midfielder Milan Pierre-Jerome, 21, says she was inspired by her father, Reginald, a former goalkeeper for the Haitian men’s team.

“Ever since I was a little girl I’ve always wanted to play for Haiti because my father played for Haiti. And he always used to tell me the stories about how they were trying to qualify for the World Cup,” Pierre-Jerome said.

After Haiti qualified for this year’s tournament, Pierre-Jerome says her dad was “speechless.”

“He’s very proud of me,” she’s said. “And he’s proud of us and what we’ve done and … we’re not finished yet.”

Family legacy

Haiti defied expectations in their opening game against England as the Caribbean nation matched the Lionesses almost every step of the way, eventually succumbing 1-0.

But after also losing 1-0 to China, Haiti goes into its final group match against Denmark facing an uphill climb to stay in the tournament.

The World Cup debutantes need a win to have any chance of making it to the Round of 16 – and for results elsewhere to go their way.

But even if they don’t make it through, the team has already made history as the first Haitian side to qualify for a World Cup since the men’s team bowed out in the group stages in 1974.

“I’ve always wanted to be a part of history in my own way, and with my purpose, and you know, for me, that’s soccer,” Pierre-Jerome said.

“Just being able to do this for our country is something that means a lot to me and, honestly makes me very emotional. To be able to say that we’ve done it is something that’s amazing.”

But while the team represent Haiti, they’ve had to practice elsewhere.

Ahead of the World Cup, the team trained in Switzerland and South Korea, according to a representative of the Haitian Federation of Football.

Haiti is a country scarred by the effects of political unrest and natural disasters. It remains one of the poorest nations in the Caribbean despite a proud history of being forged in the fires of a slave-led rebellion that defeated colonial powers and won its people’s independence.

A 7.0-magnitude earthquake in January 2010 devastated the country and left up to 300,000 people dead. Gang violence and widespread insecurity have only deepened since President Jovenel Moise was assassinated in 2021 in his bedroom.

For Etienne, representing Haiti at the Women’s World Cup is also about cementing a legacy for generations to come.

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She told CNN she’s playing now for her son, who was born at the start of the year. Etienne was back with the team just two months later and said she wanted her son to know his mother had played for Haiti in their inaugural Women’s World Cup.

“It’s definitely been a learning experience because no one for Haiti has ever had a baby and then come back and played,” she said.

And Etienne has her eyes on the future, in more ways than one.

“I was talking to my dad the other day about things that we can even do to try to help in the future for any other players who experience this, start a family and then you know, want to come back and play,” she said.

“Because, you know, it doesn’t have to be over now.”

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