Cuba – Football For All
Another area of football where advances are being made is futsal. Cuba is the only CONCACAF country that has taken part in the last three Futsal World Championships in Spain, Guatemala and Chinese Taipei. “It all started in Guatemala and at the Pan American Games in Rio — where futsal was played for the first time — we could have done better than finish fifth,” says Garces.
Palm trees, vintage cars from ’58, tobacco, rum, good music ,.. and footballs. Balls are an increasingly regular sight in Cuba and participation is increasing at all levels. Pre¬season friendly tournaments, such as the Copa Radio Cindad del Mar in Cienfuegos or the Copa Tele Rebelde in Havana, have been revived. “We are determined that people should play football all over the island and all year round, as this is essential for achieving a step up in quality,” says A.F.C. president Luis Hernandez.
Nowadays, everyone plays football and the game has even become compulsory at schools for boys and girls from the age of five. For 8- to 16-year-olds, there is the traditional Caribbean children’s championship, while at the other end of the spectrum, Cuba also boasts the world s only tournament for veterans, in which grandfathers as old as 70 take part!
“It is necessary to foster the social development of football in a country where baseball predominates. So that football becomes a social phenomenon that attracts young people it is essential to start with children, but Cuba clearly has enormous potential to grow,” said Cesar Luis Menotti, who coached Argentina to triumph in the 1978 World Cup, when he visited Cuba in 2005 to give a coaching workshop.
Cuba’s growth also became visible beyond the island’s shores when Vladimir Masso became the first Cuban referee to officiate at a FIFA tournament, the Futsal World Championship, in 2004. What is more, for the first time in 18 years, Cuba recently entered its national champion in the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup. As a result, in November Pinar del Rio tested themselves against Baltimore de St Marc (Haiti), Bassa SC (Antigua and Barbuda) and Jong Colombia (Netherlands Antilles).
Cuba loves sport and has shown the world what it is capable of in spite of the difficulties posed by the financial embargo.
The country’s only appearance at the FIFA World Cup’” was in France in 1938 where they edged past Romania before crashing to a 8-0 defeat against Sweden in the quarter-finals. Next June will mark the 70* anniversary of Cuba’s only World Cup campaign. On a visit to Havana, Danny Jordaan, the chairman of the organising committee for South Africa 2010, expressed a wish: “If there’s one country that we would like to see in the World Cup, its Cuba.”
If Cuba continue to progress at their current rate, the children on the Malecon will cease to imitate their idols from Brazil, Italy or Argentina to focus on their country’s own players.