Thirty-two men’s national association football teams from across the globe will soon be in Russia to participate in the 2018 FIFA World Cup for national pride and glory but there are unfortunately no Caribbean Football Union teams partaking in this year’s billion-dollar tournament. In fact, since the original tournament held in Uruguay in 1930, only four Caribbean national football teams have participated in what for many now is a month of delightful football madness. The four Caribbean national teams to participate in the FIFA World Cup competition which has been 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 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 this 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 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 have 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 2012 and 2014 Caribbean Cup.
JAMAICA in the FIFA World Cup – Round 1 (1998)
The third Caribbean 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 actually 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 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 both their remaining matches against England and Paraguay by a 2–0 margin. Base on this appearance, the team currently holds the record of being the smallest nation (both in size and population) to ever 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).
Sadly no Caribbean team has gotten close to raising the World Cup trophy in celebration, but we can only hope and dream. So here’s hoping this year’s FIFA World Cup tournament will inspire the Caribbean teams watching from home and we’ll see representation at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Perhaps their chances would be improved if there was a Caribbean Professional Football League to further develop players in the region.