Haiti v Argentina, Munich, Germany, 6:03 PM, June 23rd 1974

Haiti one, Italy three. Haiti nil, Poland seven. Haiti one, Argentina four. With three losses from three matches Haiti’s trip to the X World Cup Finals, in West Germany, 1974, was hardly a success. Yet the losses are somewhat misleading. Even with that seven-nil drubbing at the hands of an imperious Poland side (they scored five times in a seventeen-minute span in the first half and went on to beat Brazil for third place), Haiti’s record belies the quality of Le Rouge and Bleu during the 1970s. And it overshadows two moments of goal-scoring brilliance by the legendary Haitian striker Emmanuel “Manno” Sanon.

Following Cuba in 1938 while anticipating Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz in 1998 and Trinidad and Tobago’s Soca Warriors in 2006, Haiti was only the second team from the Caribbean to qualify for the Finals. They ranked among the strongest teams in the Americas and had just failed to qualify for Mexico ‘70. Though they reached the qualifying rounds, they were defeated by El Salvador in a playoff in Kingston, Jamaica. In 1973, Haiti won the CONCACAF Championship and as tournament winners booked their place in West Germany. The victory was marred by controversy. The Championship was held on home soil at Port-au-Prince’s Stade Sylvio Cator , the stadium that has housed a tent city since the January 12, 2010 earthquake. It was said that then-President Jean-Claude Duvalier did everything in his power to assure victory. In their match against Trinidad and Tobago, four goals by the opposition were disallowed and the referee was subsequently banned by FIFA. Meanwhile, although Haiti lost to Mexico in the final match of the tournament, Mexico’s earlier four-nil loss to Trinidad and Tobago propelled Haiti to West Germany.

Trinidad and Tobago’s Steve David was the tournament’s leading scorer with seven goals. Haiti’s Emmanuel Sanon came second with five. Sanon’s goals in West Germany proved to be among the tournament’s highlights.

There was, of course, his legendary goal against Italy in their opening group E fixture in Munich on 15 June 1974. In the forty-sixth minute, Haiti’s Philippe Vorbe, a midfielder who played for and has recently coached Port-au-Prince’s Violette A.C., delivered a perfectly weighted pass from the Haitian end that found a sprinting Sanon. Sanon collected the ball at pace, held off a panicked Italian defender and coolly slotted the ball past an onrushing Dino Zoff. The goal broke Zoff’s record of 1142 minutes without conceding a goal and ended the Italian’s run of twelve clean sheets. Though temporarily stunned, the Italians responded in emphatic fashion, scoring three unanswered goals and winning the game.

If Sanon’s goal against Italy demonstrated the striker’s pace, agility, and cool vision, his strike against Argentina in the sixty-third minute on 23 June 1974 was another creature entirely: powerful, ruthless, instinctual, imbued with the predatory awareness of a pure striker. After a close range shot from Hait’s Eddy Antoine was saved by Argentine keeper Daniel Carnevali the ball rebounded out to the top of the penalty box and into the path of Sanon. Sanon unleashed a thunderbolt. With no time to settle and collect, he one-timed it on the half volley. His connection was violent and true. The ball dipped as it traveled, leaving Carnevali flat-footed and stranded, and tore into the back of the net. Sanon’s strike left Haiti down by two goals; the Argentinians went on to win the match four-one.

Sanon’s goal against Argentina was the last goal scored by Haiti during West Germany ’74 and, as things stand, remains the last goal that Haiti has scored in the Finals. Knowing the chances of their team returning to the Finals are slim (according to FIFA, in May 2010 Haiti was ranked 91 in the world), most Haitians, like most other countries with a minor team, or like those seasonal fans who only join the Finals hysteria every four years, follow Argentina and Brazil. Haiti is draped by Argentinian and Brazilian flags, it is easier to buy Argentina and Brazil jerseys than those of Haiti, and Lionel Messi and Ronaldhino are as familiar icons on the tap-taps navigating Port-au-Prince as Lil Wayne and Jesus Christ.

But Sanon, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2008, is still remembered and his goal against Argentina in Munich still lives.

[Sanon’s goal is at the four minute and six second mark of the video embedded above].

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