14ymedio, Ernesto Santana, Havana, June 21, 2019 — The news spread quickly through the international press. The captain of the Cuban soccer team, Yasmani López, had abandoned the team at the Gold Cup of the Confederation of North America, Central America, and the Caribbean (CONCACAF) in the United States. One media outlet called him “the first of the Cuban players to flee” at this event, as if others could follow him.
Like so many other times, the team leadership delayed in making statements, waiting for instructions from Havana, which in turn was waiting to measure the repercussions of the event. Finally, the manager of the team, Raúl Mederos, recognized the act, which happened after the first match against Mexico.
“The team, as everyone knows, did not arrive at the Gold Cup with the full delegation,” said Mederos, “and indeed the number four defender abandoned the team on Saturday night. It’s his decision. None of his colleagues, there are 30 of us, have anything to do with that,” he specified at a press conference before the second game, against Martinique.
The curious declaration reveals the fear that in Havana they will try to look for supposed accomplices of the “deserter” and, additionally, reveals that a third of the group was made up of “non-athletes,” something customary in these delegations, which come to international matches well-escorted to prevent “escapes.”
The “number four defender” that Mederos alluded to is the 31-year-old captain and defender who had debuted with the national team in the Gold Cup of 2013 and since then had become an important part of the squad. “We only come to the pitch to give what we have, giving our hearts,” were his last words before leaving the team.
The high-profile repercussions and the sleepless nights of the team’s management are logical. By now it’s traditional that in CONCACAF competitions our players take the opportunity to request asylum in the US, like 12 members of the under-20 team did last November in Florida.
In the last six editions of the Gold Cup alone 11 athletes have abandoned the team, not to mention other soccer competitions in other places. Some continue playing the sport and have had success. Others not. But nothing indicates that this bloodletting will stop.
This 15th Gold Cup is being held (at the same time as the other main tournament on the continent, the America Cup) from June 15 to July 7, and 16 teams are participating. Cuba participated five times previously, beginning in 1998 and, for the last time, in 2007, but only in 2003 did it advance to the second round. Now they were competing in Group A with Mexico, Canada, and Martinique.
The Island had already lost the previous captain, the midfielder Yordan Santa Cruz, 25, who was denied a visa for unconfirmed reasons; according to some it was because of a disturbance of public order in Jamaica in 2015. According to others, it was for an unproven accusation of rape in the United States. Santa Cruz is contracted with the Jarabacoa FC de Dominicana and made the goal that got Cuba to this tournament.
When the Cup began, Mederos’s boys seemed the tournament’s weakest team. Their debut on Saturday the 15th against Mexico, which massacred them 7-0, amply confirmed all fears, aside from which it is certain that the Cubans have had problems with arriving on time and even with their uniforms.
On Wednesday the 19th, having already lost the second captain, Cuba fell again in the second game, 3-0, against Martinique, which had been thrashed 4-0 by Canada. Thus, without having scored a single goal, the Cubans were already eliminated in the group phase, fulfilling the majority of the predictions.
If some believe that this could be an insurmountable blow for the new generation of players who cannot see the sun, others believe that this disaster could sound the alarms and call attention to a discipline that is very marginalized despite the enormous and growing popularity of soccer in our country.
The criticisms of this performance, one of the worst in the last 20 years, begins with the poor selection of players starting with the recent National Championship and with the bad management of the lineup, but above all with the dreadful work of the Soccer Federation, which keeps the playing fields in lamentable conditions and refuses to consider including athletes who are on their own in foreign leagues.
In the end, the blame always ends up pointing toward that dark zone from which the instructions come down for the sports authorities, that, ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether or not they have intentions of carrying out the essential reforms to save the sport, because they don’t determine anything.
Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera
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