ORLANDO, Florida – Brazil are perhaps the only squad that Haitians cheer for outside of their home team, and with good reason.
Back in 2004, when Haiti was facing a bloody civil war, Brazil came to the island nation to play a friendly. The catch? Fans had to exchange their guns for a ticket to watch the game.
"In a time of war, Brazil came into our nation and helped us heal the best they could," recalled Haitian midfielder Jean-Marc Alexandre. "To have people trade in their guns for a ticket, that was revolutionary in a nation in such a state as ours was."
Fast-forward 12 years, and Alexandre and Haiti will now face their beloved Brazil in the second group stage of the Copa America Centenario (7:30 pm ET; FS1, UniMás, UDN).
“It’s a blessing to play a team like Brazil,” said Alexandre on Tuesday. “Growing up I’d watch them play on TV and never thought I’d have to honor to play them in such a big stage like Copa America.
"It's going to be emotional. However, at the same time we are athletes and we are competitive. When that whistle blows tomorrow, all our emotions will be gone for those 90 minutes."
For the small nation of Haiti, playing on the world's biggest stages is a novelty. The national team has qualified for just one World Cup, back in 1974, and recently made noise in the 2015 edition of the Gold Cup, in which they hung tough vs. the United States and made it to the quarterfinals.
“This is a huge opportunity for us as a nation,” explained Alexandre. “Coach [Patrice] Neveu has done a very good job preparing us, and tomorrow we will give our best vs. a Brazil team that desperately need a win.”
Haiti nearly stunned the world in their Copa America opener vs. Peru in Seattle, coming inches away from tying the game in the 94th minute. Substitute forward Kervens Belfort had an open chance off a free kick, but sent his header just wide of goal.
“We need to understand these things happen,” Neveu said. “He [Belfort] didn't see the movement of the ball, and he was looking elsewhere.
“He's stronger after that miss, though. We are encouraging him and we are working on making him the player we know he is.”
Despite the assumptions that Haiti will not be able to compete with mighty Brazil, the underdogs are ready to spring a shock.
"If we didn't think we had a chance, we wouldn't be here training, and working. We would just watch the game from home," said Alexandre. "Yes, Brazil remains Brazil, they are still one of the best. But on that soccer field tomorrow, we are on the same level as them."
For Haiti, a win would mean cause for national celebration. But Neveu doesn't want to sound cocky.
"We are capable of having a good result vs. Brazil,” he said. “To say we will win is pretentious. Brazil is still Brazil, they are still a prestigious team."
Regardless of the final result, the humble Caribbean land will be eagerly focused on Wednesday's action at Camping World Stadium.
“It’s going to be a great experience tomorrow for Haitians all over Haiti,” explained Alexandre. “Fans in Haiti are going to stop everything to see this. They will come out winners regardless. If Brazil wins, they’ll be happy, but if we win they will be ecstatic.”