Posted : Thu, 09 Oct 2008 03:18:11 GMT
Author : DPA
Havana - "The last chance" - that is how Cuba's national football coach,
the German Reinhold Fanz, defines the historic game that the team is set
to play Saturday in the United States, in the Concacaf qualifiers for
the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. "We know that the game in the United
States is going to be very difficult, but it is the last chance, and we
are going to try to deliver a surprise," Fanz told Deutsche
Presse-Agentur dpa, hours before leaving Wednesday for Washington.
Cuban players face a huge challenge as they meet their country's
political archrival. Clashes between the small communist island and the
huge neighbour that Cubans call "imperialist" always have serious
This was clear when the United States played Cuba in early September in
Havana, the first time a US football team played in the communist island
in 61 years. The event prompted great attention in Cuba - a country that
is generally indifferent to football - and beyond.
Now, Cubans take on the challenge of becoming the first football team
representing the island to play in Washington.
"This is nothing more than a football game, but since it is in the
United States it is obvious that it is different from those in other
countries," Fanz said.
He admitted that politics started to leak into the game even as he
selected the squad.
"There have already been some problems. Some players did not get the
visa, and, from that point of view, it is not just the coach that
decides the team but also those who grant visas," a resigned Fanz said.
Indeed, with any trip to the United States, the spectre of defection -
which constantly haunts Cuba in international sport - hangs over the
team as usual. Seven young Cuban footballers fled the communist island
in May during the under-23 pre-Olympic tournament in Florida.
The United States has won its three games so far in the current stage of
the World Cup qualifiers in the Confederation of North, Central America
and the Caribbean (Concacaf). Cuba, in turn, is the only one among 12
teams trying to qualify that has yet to get a point after playing three
With a victory over Cuba, the United States can secure a place in the
region's final qualifying round. Failure to bring at least a point home
from Washington would leave Cuba with little hope of reaching the 2010
World Cup in South Africa.
"We are leaving with great motivation," said Cuba captain Jorge Luis
Striker Leonel Duarte, one of Cuba's most key players, told dpa: "We are
leaving with no pressure whatsoever, because we have already lost the
three previous games. Now we really have very little to lose and a lot
However, Cuba travelled to the United States with little practice in the
wake of hurricanes Gustav and Ike, which have devastated the island
The 18-member squad has several conspicuous absences.
Fanz will miss striker Roberto Linares, who was sent off in a game
against Guatemala. The most experienced Cuban midfielder, Jaime Colome,
has back problems and might not be able to play 90 minutes.
And they know that not all problems are directly related to sport.
In this scenario, Duarte stressed the team's "revolutionary" spirit.
"All of us travelling there are revolutionaries and believe in the Cuban
revolution. We are always going to take a step forward to defend any
conquest we may have made here," he said.
"There may be people who want to get close to us, trying to bribe us, to
blackmail us, to put extra pressure on us. But we are only going to play
Fanz maintained a brave face: "I hope they all return, because the
players are seeing that we are making progress. We have worked hard and
very well, and except for results, which have unfortunately not gone our
way, I believe the players see that we are moving forward."