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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 August, 2004, 00:06 GMT 01:06 UK
Brazil takes on football-crazy Haiti
By Steve Kingstone
BBC, Port-au-Prince

Brazil's Roger, top, embraces his teammate Ronaldo as they celebrate a goal against Haiti during a friendly match at the Sylvio Cator Stadium in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Wednesday
Brazil won, but in the party atmosphere few Haitians seemed to care
Haitians have been enjoying a sporting carnival as Ronaldo and Brazil's other World Cup-winning footballers took on the national side in Port-au-Prince.

Haiti presented little competition for Brazil, who won the match 6-0.

But the excited Haitians - some of whom climbed trees next to the stadium to get a view - did not seem to care.

The friendly match was organised by the United Nations to promote peace and reconciliation in the tiny, conflict-scarred Caribbean country.

Tens of thousands of Haitians lined the streets to welcome Brazil's team as it was escorted by UN peacekeepers.

Brazilian troops have run the UN's Haiti mission after a violent revolt forced a change of government there in February.

I was at the airport when the Brazilian team arrived... All the way to the stadium there were people everywhere... More or less 100,000 people
Patrick Dumonde
Haiti trainer

Brazil's President, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, was in town and had earlier asked his players not to score too many goals - this being a goodwill mission, he did not want to damage Haitian morale.

Clearly, the Brazilian players did not listen.

But the party went on despite the score and it seemed no-one really cared about the result.

The carnival drums were playing but the UN helicopters also patrolled overhead at the Silvio Cator national football stadium in Port-au-Prince.

"They play, peace wins," was the slogan for this game - but Brazil's football diplomacy took place amid tight security.

Its team travelled between the airport and the national stadium in UN armoured vehicles.

The concern was not potential hostility towards the players - quite the reverse.

Haiti bus with portrait of Ronaldinho Gaucho
Brazilian football stars even grace Haitian buses
Haiti's eight million people idolise the Brazilians - and 1,800 UN peacekeepers were on hand to make sure they don't get too close.

A long line of Haitian fans patiently waited to get into the ground.

Many of them wore Brazilian football shirts, such is the passion for Brazil in Haiti.

And they all had to pass through two security cordons to get here.

Everybody was frisked for weapons.

Goal prize

The smiling football diplomacy couldn't be further from the scene six months ago, when armed rebels were demanding the resignation of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

By the time he went into exile, some 300 people had died in the fighting.

Haiti's interim Prime Minister, Gerard Latortue, said the match was "a game for peace and to promote national reconciliation".

As an added incentive to the Haitian underdogs, he had offered $1,000 of his own money to the first home player to score.




SEE ALSO:
Brazil to play Haitians for peace
30 Jun 04  |  Americas
Challenges tower over Haiti force
02 Jun 04  |  Americas
UN approves new Haiti peace force
30 Apr 04  |  Americas
Country profile: Haiti
03 Mar 04  |  Country profiles


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