Thirty-two men’s national association football teams from across the globe will soon be in Qatar to participate in the 2022 FIFA World Cup for national pride and glory. Unfortunately, no Caribbean Football Union association member has qualified to participate in this year’s billion-dollar tournament. In fact, since the original tournament held in Uruguay in 1930, only four Caribbean football teams have participated in what for many now is a month of delightful football madness. The four Caribbean football teams to participate in a FIFA World Cup competition held every four years since the inaugural tournament except in 1942 and 1946 due to the Second World War include Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, and Trinidad & Tobago.
CUBA in the FIFA World Cup – Quarterfinals (1938)
The Cuba National Football Team was the first Caribbean football team to participate in the FIFA World Cup, which they did in 1938. Their qualification came about as a result of the decision to hold the third World Cup tournament in France.
The decision to hold the tournament in France was poorly received in the Americas, who felt the tournament should have returned to their side of the globe after the second one was held in Italy. Thus, all nations in South America except Brazil withdrew, and all CONCACAF nations except Cuba withdrew. Thus, the two qualified by default. The tournament was held as a straight knock-out tournament of 16 nations. Once the tournament got on the way, the Cuban team defeated Romania in a replay 2–1 after drawing against them 3–3. They were then eliminated in the quarter-finals by Sweden, 8–0. Cuba has not returned to the World Cup since. They have, however, finished second in the Caribbean Cup in 1996, 1999, and 2005 and won the 2012 Caribbean Cup.
HAITI in the FIFA World Cup – Round 1 (1974)
The second Caribbean football team to participate in the FIFA World Cup was the Haiti National Football Team in 1974. Held in then West Germany, the Haitian team didn’t get beyond round one and has not made another appearance in the FIFA World Cup.
However, it should be noted that they surprised the football world in their debut game when star forward Emmanuel Sanon scored to give Haiti a lead over Italy, at the same time ending Dino Zoff’s still-standing record run of 1142 minutes without conceding a goal in international matches. They eventually lost 1–4 and would lose to Poland (0–7) and Argentina (1–4). Their most successful football tournament participation was winning the 2007 Caribbean Cup. More recently, they have placed third in the 2012 and 2014 Caribbean Cup.
JAMAICA in the FIFA World Cup – Round 1 (1998)
The third Caribbean football team to participate in the FIFA World Cup was the Jamaica National Football Team in 1998. While this Jamaica team, like Haiti, didn’t get beyond round one of the tournaments held in France, Jamaica is the smallest nation to score in and win a FIFA World Cup game — two feats previously held by Northern Ireland since 1958 — when Robbie Earle scored the side’s only goal in a 3–1 defeat against Croatia and then beat Japan 2–1 at the 1998 World Cup, respectively.
Jamaica is also, along with the United States and Costa Rica, one of the rare teams from the Confederation of North, Central American, and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) region to draw against Mexico in the Estadio Azteca in a World Cup qualifier match. The Jamaica National Football Team has won the Caribbean Cup six times (1991, 1998, 2005, 2008, 2010 & 2014).
TRINIDAD & TOBAGO in the FIFA World Cup – Round 1 (2006)
The fourth Caribbean football team to participate in the FIFA World Cup was the Trinidad & Tobago National Football Team, nicknamed the Soca Warriors, in 2006. During this tournament held in a united Germany, Trinidad & Tobago were grouped with England, Sweden, and Paraguay in Group B. They drew their first game 0–0 against Sweden despite going down to ten men early in the second half.
They then lost their remaining matches against England and Paraguay by a 2–0 margin. Based on this appearance, the team currently holds the record of being the smallest nation (both in size and population) to qualify for a FIFA World Cup. Outside of FIFA World Cup tournaments, the Trinidad & Tobago National Football Team has qualified for the CONCACAF Gold Cup on eight occasions, with their best performance in 2000 after reaching the semi-finals, finishing 3rd. The team has had even greater success in the Caribbean Cup having won the sub-continental competition eight times (1989, 1992, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1999 & 2001) and runners-up on five occasions (1991, 1998, 2007, 2012 & 2014).
Future of Caribbean Football Teams at World Cup
Sadly no Caribbean football team has gotten close to raising the World Cup trophy in celebration, but we can only hope and dream. Perhaps their chances would be improved if there was a Caribbean Professional Football League to further develop players in the region.
Since a proper football league in the Caribbean remains a work in progress, here is hoping this year’s FIFA World Cup tournament in Qatar will inspire the senior national teams in the region. The next FIFA World Cup takes place during the summer of 2026 and will be hosted jointly by Canada, Mexico, and the United States across sixteen cities. Importantly, it will be the first FIFA World Cup to include forty-eight teams, expanded from thirty-two.
The expanded number of teams at the 23rd FIFA World Cup will increase the odds of a Caribbean football team making the tournament, as there will be six or seven teams from The Confederation of North, Central America, and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF). Previously, it was just three CONCACAF teams that could qualify. So fingers crossed, we will see one or more of the Caribbean football teams in the mix.
NOTE: The Jamaica Reggae Girlz will compete at the 9th FIFA Women’s World Cup, which will be hosted jointly by Australia and New Zealand from July 20th to August 20th, 2023. Jamaica is the first women’s football team from the Caribbean to participate in this global tournament with 32 teams; it should be another source of inspiration for the men’s football teams in the region, gearing up for 2026!
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Note: Originally published on May 22, 2018, this post was updated on November 11th, 2022.