Dwyane Wade took a break from NBA Finals preparation Saturday to spend a sweltering afternoon at Sun Life Stadium, along with 36,534 other soccer fans.
The crowd — which also included Haitian president Michel Martelly, singer Shakira, and Minnesota Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio — was there to see defending World Cup champion Spain play a friendly against the Haitian national team.
This Spain squad, with its precision passing and jaw-dropping collection of European league stars, is considered by many to be the best national team of all time. And for the first half of their 2-1 victory, there were glimpses of brilliance from “La Furia Roja" (The Red Fury).
Santi Cazorla and Cesc Fabregas scored early goals in the seventh and 18th minutes to give the Spaniards a 2-0 lead. Cazorla, who plays for Arsenal in England, dribbled to his left and landed a low 25-yard shot. Then Barcelona midfielder Fabregas, in the midst of an off-season bidding war between some of Europe’s top teams, headed in a Juan Mata chip past Haiti goalkeeper Frandy Montrevil.
But the highlight of the match, without a doubt, did not come from one of the Spanish multimillionaire mega-stars. It came in the 76th minute from 24-year-old Haitian left back Donald Guerrier Wilde, who plays for America des Cayes in Haiti’s domestic league. He makes his living at a stadium with a capacity of 2,000, a far cry from 99,354-seat Camp Nou, home of many of the Spanish players.
The ball dropped back to Wilde, and what he did next surely will catch the eye of any scout or coach that sees a replay. Wilde sprinted with the ball at blazing speed, heading without trepidation whatsoever toward a Spanish back line that included Gerard Pique of Barcelona and Cesar Azpilicueta of Chelsea.
He threaded the ball right through them, leaving them with their legs outstretched, and their heads turned to see who just whizzed past them. Spain goalkeeper Pepe Reina, who subbed starter Iker Casillas in the second half, tried to cut Wilde off, but the Haitian went around him and deftly cranked the ball into the far post.
Wilde kissed his jersey and then lifted it to reveal a white T-shirt with many messages scrawled in marker. There were Thank You notes to his mother, and also a tribute to his one-day-old son, Cristiano, who was born on Friday and named for the Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo.
As Wilde raced around in celebration, hugged by his teammates, it became apparent just how many Haitian fans were in the audience. The crowd roared far louder than it had for the two Spanish goals. Haitian reporters erupted out of their press box seats.
Asked afterward how it felt to be dribbling toward some of the richest, most famous soccer players on the planet, Wilde smiled and replied: “It was a great honor to play against the world champions and I think we showed that Haiti is not only about the earthquake we had, but we showed that we have talent. I was very pleased to get a goal against the No. 1 team in the world. They are great players but they are human beings, they aren’t from another planet."
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque felt his team let up in the second half, but was still complimentary of the Haitian effort, particularly that of the aggressive outside backs.
“In the first half, I think we played to our level, we controlled the ball and created chances," said Del Bosque. “After the break we put less pressure on, played with less intensity and Haiti were able to see more of the ball and play better, but overall it was a good test for us.”
Haiti coach Israel Blake Cantero, a Cuban who played for the Cuban national team in the 1998 Gold Cup, said his team also changed after halftime.
“We gained a lot of confidence in the second half,” he said. “The first half we felt a lot of pressure playing against the champions of the world.’’
The Spaniards play another friendly against Ireland on Tuesday at Yankee Stadium in New York, and then head to the Confederations Cup in Brazil where they will face Uruguay, Nigeria and Tahiti in Group B.
Haiti traveled to Brazil Saturday night, and plays Italy in a friendly on Tuesday. The Haitian team will be back at Sun Life Stadium in mid-July for the Gold Cup.