This Friday the Havana Pedro Marrero Stadium witnessed an authentic fiesta when the Cuban and U.S. soccer teams played against each other in a friendly game that ended 2-0 in favor of the visitors.
Flags from both countries, fans of one or the other team with faces painted red, white and blue, signs allegoric to the match, shouts and songs were the complement to a good soccer game, where the Cubans broke all forecasts by carrying out a great commitment, beyond coming out with the defeat.
Approximately 15,000 Cubans attended the game at the capital’s stadium while close to 2,000 people from the U.S. were present to encourage their team. Soccer, as U.S. technical director Jürgen Klinsmann said at the end of the game, was the common denominator to strengthen ties of friendship and fraternity between the two nations.
The former technician of the German team highlighted that soccer is the ideal sport to build bridges between persons from different countries. And he added that they wanted to come to Cuba because they needed to get to know Cuba’s culture and its people. He said that they were treated with a great deal of joy and respect in Havana.
For 90 minutes both fans madly egged on their representatives, but in the end, when the ball did not roll anymore, the foreign fans passionately chanted “Cuba, Cuba, Cuba!” once and again, while the local spectators reciprocated the gesture with resounding applause. Soccer had met its goal.
Juan Antonio Vargas was born in New York but his parents, Bolivians by birth, instilled soccer in him at an early age, and he did not miss that chance to come to Cuba with all his family and enjoy a good spectacle.
“This is my first visit to Havana, and I’ve loved the way soccer is lived in Cuba, I really didn’t expect this atmosphere of fiesta, despite the fact that the two teams fought hard to achieve victory.”
Further on, Vargas and one of his friends, Edmundo Tapia, had words of praise for the Cuban soccer players. They highlighted that the local players need to face top-class rivals, which would help the development of this sport on the island.
Paul Rogers, from San Francisco, California, argued that they were leaving with the victory, but he affirmed he would have liked to see a goal by the Cubans. I feel that my team did not play a great game, but that’s soccer for you, he said, and added that the Cubans were excellent hosts and that is something positive they were taking home with them.
In the sports sphere, Cuba positioned correctly its men on the field and despite the qualitative superiority of the United States, they generated serious inconveniences for the rival defense. However, soccer, a capricious discipline, didn’t want to smile in favor of the Cubans. At times the posts, at others the bad shot, and at times the absence of cunningness to anticipate the play, prevented the goal from resounding with greater force in the installation located in Playa municipality.
The captain of the country of the Stars and Stripes, Michael Bradley, had already warned hours before the meet: to vanquish the Cubans their teammates need to have a strong mind, because the adversary would not give up anything on the field.
Cuba has to be respected because it’s at home and they have nothing to lose, he said, and added that if they delayed in scoring, the pressure would fall on them.
And in fact, the U.S. team needed 62 minutes to open the score when Julian Green – the most outstanding player in the match – flew through the left touchline, got to the limits of the area and sent a powerful right-foot shot that goalkeeper Sandy Sánchez was not able to catch, the ball was lose and Chris Wondolowski got it to inaugurate the scoreboard and silence three quarters of the stand.
The goal did not crumble the Cubans who did not give up on the attack, to the point that they were close to a tie; but talented winger Roberney Caballero wasted a few shots in a question of seconds.
In the midst of the Cuban frenzy, the U.S. goal formula again arrived, although now in an inverted way, since Wondolowski made a great run to the final line through the right and centered below toward the heart of the area, where Green was waiting to score the final 2-0.
Until referee Luis E. Yero marked the end of the actions, Cuba insisted in opening its goal, but the goal as a prize never came. However, the Cuban fans, knowledgeable about soccer and demanding like any other supporters, applauded their team as a sign of respect for their effort. The U.S. players also took away with them a respectful acclaim from the Cuban fans who were able to enjoy a meet at the height of the expectations it generated.
“No one expected us to play a good game but we did it, and that is the image we leave for the fans. I feel proud of my boys’ performance, they followed the tactical indications, they cannot be reproached, they gave it all to win,” said the Cuban team’s trainer, Idalberto Raúl Mederos.
Before the start of the match, the players of both teams were greeted by the Second Lady of the United States, Jill Biden, and that nation’s ambassador to Cuba, Jeffrey DeLaurentis; they were accompanied by sports representatives in Cuba.