Haiti, Enchanting and Fearless against a Giant, Makes its World Cup Debut

REUTERS/Hollie Adams
People react as fans gather to watch England v Haiti FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia and New Zealand 2023 football game in Wembley, London, Britain July 22, 2023.

BRISBANE, Australia – Haiti’s presence in this World Cup, secured on a happy-teary day in February at a playoff in New Zealand, would have enchanted everyone except life’s assortment of prudes, malcontents, jerks and ignoramuses. Yet Haiti’s presence at this World Cup, christened on a cool Saturday night in a Group D lid-lifter, managed to enhance the enchantment with something more universal.

It gave a hundred-minute glimpse of a 19-year-old dazzler.

Mighty England’s 1-0 win over little Haiti, notched on a twice-taken penalty in the 29th minute, became one of those occasional sporting events in which someone on the nonwinning side takes up all the memory bandwidth from the evening. That’s because Melchie Dumornay, an attacking – and attacking and attacking – midfielder from Mirebalais, looked so starry and polished that her age started to seem sort of miscounted or misprinted.

“I’m trying to stay natural,” she said a few times during her abundant reflections after the match, and that approach clearly helped her create commanding play after commanding play, causing so much of what trouble Haiti could cause with the possession amounts tilted against it generally. She wreaked chances with her creativity and speed. She fed pretty through balls to teammates. She marked England’s Keira Walsh into a hush. It started to seem that whenever something happened, you would look for Haiti’s No. 6 amid the something and then, yeah, you would find her there.

Finally in the 90th minute, she made a move and shipped a ball up the left side so she could outrace defender Jess Carter to it, forcing Carter to catch up and clear for a corner, which Dumornay took and curled right on into the mouth of the goal, where goalkeeper Mary Earps had to deal with it. With that, Dumornay finally exhausted all the possibilities she lent the match.

Dumornay, operating among opponents who famously won the European Championship last year, seemed as if playing in maybe a third World Cup. She thrived before a crowd of 44,369 so England-heavy that England Coach Sarina Wiegman felt it might have been England, in a stadium in the host city for the 2032 Olympics. She might have made witnesses envy supporters of French club Lyon, with whom she signed in springtime after two seasons at Reims. She started to seem giant enough Saturday night that when she reached the interview area with her height of about 5-foot-3, an untrained eye might have thought briefly, That’s her, right?

“For me,” Dumornay said, “it’s always a challenge to play against the best players . . . so I can challenge myself and see if I move on, if I progress in my game. So I can say tonight it’s not really bad, but I have a lot of work to learn, because I’m young and I’m trying to move on,” by which she easily could have meant “move up.”

She echoed the thought just emphasized on the pitch, that Haiti hadn’t come all this way just to appear and sing with gusto its national anthem, “La Dessalinienne.” She called it “an honor” to play in the World Cup but said gently: “We’ve come here not to play only three games. We’re going to try to go to the next stage, so we’ll try to do our best for the next two games.”

“I think the other two countries are going to really struggle with them,” Wiegman said, referring to Denmark and China, the other teams in Group D. “As we expected, they’re impressive, very direct and very strong on the counterattack.”

One such counterattack may have caused her a palpitation in the 81st minute, when Dumornay sent a long ball over to Nerilia Mondesir, Mondesir arrived on the left of the box and sent a pass back to the center, and fresh substitute Roseline Éloissaint charged forward and had a shouting chance. She got away from Millie Bright and shot her shot, forcing Earps into a near-frantic left-footed save.

That might have forged a draw, what with what happened much earlier.

Back then, a second video assistant referee review of the first half showed the ball glancing off the fingertips of Haiti’s Batcheba Louis as Louis went for a ball with England’s Lucy Bronze. The referee awarded a penalty, which Georgia Stanway took.

Stanway drove it to the left just as goalkeeper Kerly Théus dived to her right, and the dramatic save that resulted sent the Haitians scrambling toward Théus to exult in a group hug. That mirth gave way quickly; soon, Théus stood in goal with hands on hips, bummed and ready to defend again. That’s because she had been off the line on her save, the rule itself another case of the world’s hostility toward goalkeepers.

Stanway went again, and this time Théus sprawled to her left, while Stanway’s second ball went to the same corner as the first and rolled in easily. England had its first goal in its past four matches, its run-up to this World Cup decked and docked by three glaring injuries, including to captain Leah Williamson.

From that 1-0 lead, though, a lively and often lovely match featured the Lionesses dominating possession but Théus making save upon save upon save. That left Haiti room to counter and to wonder and Dumornay room to speak of hope for a country of 11 million that suffers an ungodly amount of strife.

“It’s an honor to all my teammates,” she said, “and all the country, too. I know they are really, really, really proud of us and they will always support us. I know that. But we know they have a lot of frustration in front of the TV [after this match] so we’re going to try to make them happy for the next two games.”

Then this marvel who scored both goals in the 2-1 win over Chile that brought about this startling World Cup appearance said, “It’s only the details, but I think if we can do that against England, we can do that against any one team that will come in front of us.” Her words were chockablock with hope, while her tone sounded earnest and, yeah, natural.