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No cigar for Cuba on world stage

Cuba is a country that is better known for its cigars than football prowess and the beautiful game plays second fiddle to baseball, basketball and athletics.

The national team has competed at the World Cup just once in 1938 and their qualification was largely due to the fact that, with the exception of Brazil all CONCACAF and South American teams refused to participate because of FIFA’s decision to stage the contest in France, four years after it was held in Italy.

Despite their inexperience the Cubans managed to produce a shock first round replay win over Romania however, they were brought crashing down to reality with an 8-0 loss at the hands of Sweden in the second round.

It would be understandable to think that a population of just over 11 million could hinder the sporting chances of an island nation but in the 2008 Olympics Cuba clocked up 24 medals, leaving them 13th in the overall medals tally which is incredible considering Spain and The Netherlands were just short of the 20 mark in their haul.

There is definitely an aptitude for sport in the Caribbean nation, which begs the question, why is the world’s most global sport so far behind?

Lack of investment

The funding for football in Cuba is where the majority of the problem lies. With a lack of investment into the game teams are forced to play on pitches that would not look out of place in a Sunday pub league.

The season takes place between February and July and matches are played in mid-afternoon to avoid the expensive cost of adding flood lights to the stadiums, therefore players must battle through the 90 minutes in sweltering 30 degree heat.

The Campeonato Nacional de Fútbol (Cuba's top division) is comprised of eight teams who play each other twice over the season in an effort to claim a top four playoff place. 

The play-off is formatted as two semi-finals and a final where fourth face first and second play third over two legs. This year’s champions Villa Clara actually finished second in the league however, they took a 1-0 home lead into the play off final second leg against league leaders Guantanamo and held out for a draw to claim the league title.

There are plenty of countries with domestic leagues that aren’t played at a particularly high standard but still boast an excellent national team.

Top leagues

Take Uruguay for example, a population dwarfed by Cuba’s that has just won the Copa America. The difference may be that almost all Uruguayan players are plying their trade in some of the top leagues in world football, Cuba on the other hand lined up at the 2011 Gold Cup with a squad full of Cuban based players. 

Cuba is home to a couple of players who have caught the eye internationally. Yoel Colomé (pictured - right) and 16-year-old Andres Valdes, who has one cap to date, are reported to have attracted some interest in Spain.

It appears that if Cuba is going to become a creditable name in world football, more players are going to have to try their luck in other countries.

In 2004 the Asociación de Fútbol de Cuba gave the green light for floodlights to be built at the National teams training base and for a training academy to be built for women’s football.

Small changes like these are a major step for Football in Cuba but they are the kind of changes that may see the Cuban national team returning to the world stage in the near future.

By Danny Butterwick

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