Three goals from our Nicaraguan hero Juan Barrera over a seven-minute period saw Nicaragua overcome a 3-1 first-leg defeat to Haiti and qualify for the Gold Cup.
Our white and blue warriors were defeated in Port-Au-Prince, and in Managua, with 10 minutes left on the clock, it looked liked Nicaragua was not going through to the next Concacaf Gold Cup. But then came Juan Barrera, the first Nicaraguan international to play club soccer in Europe.
Barrera converted a penalty in the 82nd minute and a spark of hope emerged in the stands of El Nacional.
Nicaraguan fans were incredulous as only a few minutes later in the 86th minute, a long ball from midfield delivered by Dani Cadena found the head of “El Iluminado”, who chipped the Haitian keeper as he rushed to punch the cross, and the ball flew over the keeper and rolled into the back of the net as fans from all over the stadium roared with joy and excitement.
A 2-0 goal advantage meant Nicaragua was going through, but that was not enough for Barrera as he secured classification with a left footed volley in the 89th minute. That gave Los Pinoleros a 4-3 aggregate victory and sent them into the Gold Cup for the first time since 2009 and for only the second time in the country’s history.
The qualification prompted joyful fans to rush onto the field to celebrate with the team. “We’re thankful for the people who truly believed in this comeback,” Barrera told reporters after the game.
The victory on that special night will surely inspire new generations of Nicaraguan footballers for the years to come, the quality of soccer in Nicaragua has been growing exponentially and this triumph is a prime example of how the “beautiful” game can bring an entire nation together.