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USA favored against Cuba, Honduras and Panama
by Paul Kennedy, March 11th, 2008 6:45AM
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[SCOUTING REPORT]It's been more than 20 years since the USA has lost a game in Olympic men's qualifying to a team other than Mexico with a berth still at stake.

The Americans will be heavily favored in Group A of the 2008 CONCACAF qualifying tournament that begins Tuesday in Tampa.

A first-place finish in the group will set up a date against the runner-up from Group B with an Olympic berth on the line March 20 at Nashville's LP Field.

Here's a look at Group A opponents Cuba, Honduras and Panama.

CUBA.Cuba hasn't played in the Olympic finals since 1980 when it took the USA's place following President Jimmy Carter's decision to boycott the Moscow Games.

Enrique Villaurrutia, who represented Cuba at the 2007 Gold Cup, joins Cienfuegos teammatesAlexis Carrazanaand Yordanis Alvarez in the midfield that Coach Raul Gonzalez is expected to start against the USA Tuesday night in Tampa.

Cuba, which clinched a berth in the final round of qualifying with wins over host Trinidad & Tobago (3-0) and Grenada (2-1) in their Caribbean qualifying group, had a busy schedule of friendly games before it headed to Tampa. It split a two-game series with Haiti, lost and tied against Guyana's senior national team, tied Guatemala and lost to a traveling French police all-star team.

CUBA ROSTER:
Goalkeepers:Jose Miranda (Matanzas), Arael Arguelles (Cienfuegos).
Defenders:Yenier Bermudez (Cienfuegos), Raicel Mezquia (Pinar del Rio), Juan Carlos Martinez (Villa Clara), Loannys Cartaya (Ciudad de la Habana), Yendri Diaz (Matanzas), Erlys Garcia (Ciudad de la Habana).
Midfielders:Enrique Villaurrutia (Cienfuegos), Alexis Carrazana (Cienfuegos), Yordanis Alvarez (Cienfuegos), Alianni Urgelles (Guantanamo), Eder Roldan (Ciudad de la Habana), Livan Vasconcelos (Matanzas).
Forwards:Leonel Duarte (Ciego de Avila), Yasnier Rosales (Granma), Roberto Linares (Villa Clara), Luis Alberto Villegas (Villa Clara).

HONDURAS.Honduras last qualified for the Olympics in 2000 when it won the qualifying tournament in Hershey, Pa.

The Catrachos, who won their Central American qualification group, feature Ramon Nunez, a product of the U.S. ODP system now playing for Olimpia after stints with FC Dallas and Chivas USA in MLS.

Other key players in Colombian Alexis Mendoza's squad include defender Erick Norales and midfielder Hendry Thomas, both members of the Catrachos' senior national team.

HONDURAS ROSTER:
Goalkeepers:Kevin Hernandez (Victoria), Obed Enamorado (Vida), Levon Smitt (Arsenal).
Defenders:Quiarol Arzu (Platense), Misael Ruiz (Platense), Rigoberto Padilla (Hispano), David Molina (Motagua), Erick Norales (Marathon), Arnold Solorzano (Savio).
Midfielders:Daniel Alvarez (Marathon), Ramon Nunez (Olimpia), Irvin Reyna (Olimpia), Oscar Morales (Real Espana), Mario Martinez (Real Espana), Marvin Sanchez (Platense), Hendry Thomas (Olimpia), Georgie Welcome (no club).
Forwards:Jefferson Bernerdez (Motagua), Luis Alberto Lopez (Marathon), Jose Cesar Guity (Marathon).

PANAMA.Alexandre Guimaraes coached Costa Rica at two World Cups. Now he will attempt to lead Panama to the Olympics for the first time.

Panama earned the last berth in the U-23 finals when it beat Costa Rica in a shootout after their Central American playoff ended in a 1-1 tie on aggregate.

The Canaleros, who will be making their third consecutive appearance in the final round of the CONCACAF U-23 championship, are led by two-time Gold Cup veteran Ramon Torres.

Roman is one of six foreign-based players in Panama's squad along with forward Gabriel Torres, his teammate at Colombia's La Equidad, midfielders Nelson Barahonaof Uruguay's Fenix, Anibal Godoy of Argentina's Arsenal and Carlos Rodriguez of Uruguay's Defensor and forward Edwin Aguilar of Mexico's Coastzacoalcos.

PANAMA ROSTER:
Goalkeepers:Jose Calderon (Chepo), Gilmar Torres (Alianza), Guillermo Murillo (Chepo).
Defenders:Roman Torres (La Equidad-Colombia), Adolfo Machado (Alianza), Reinaldo Anderson (Arabe Unido), Rolando Algandona (San Francisco), Erick Vasquez (Chorrillo), Jean Carlos Cedeno (Chorrillo).
Midfielders:Nelson Barahona (Fenix-Uruguay), Eduardo Jimenez (San Francisco), Cristian Vega (Plaza Amador), Manuel Bonilla (Chorrillo), Anibal Godoy (Arsenal-Argentina), Juan de Gracia (Chepo), Reggie Arosemena (Tauro), Carlos Rodriguez (Defensor Sporting-Uruguay).
Forwards:Gabriel Torres (La Equidad-Colombia), Edwin Aguilar (Coastzacoalcos-Mexico), Alberto Quintero (Chorrillo).


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