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Cuban heroes hatch escape plot
March 13th, 2008 6:45AM



[OLYMPIC QUALIFYING] Within an hour of its sensational performance against the United States in their opening game of the Concacaf Olympic men's qualifying tournament, Cuba was rocked with the discovery that five players were missing in a well-planned scheme to defect.

The players -- including goalie Jose Manuel Miranda, who had a big game in the 1-1 tie Tuesday in Tampa, and captain Yenier Bermudez -- reportedly left the Doubletree Airport Hotel, the team hotel, within 15 minutes of their return from at Raymond James Stadium, rushed to a waiting car and headed off to Lake Worth, south of West Palm Beach, on Florida's Atlantic coast.

Erlys Garcia Baro, Yordany Alvarez, Loanni Prieto, Miranda and Bermudez had hatched their plan while back in Cuba.

"We knew when we got to the United States what our plan was," Bermudez told the Miami Herald. "It's something the five of us talked about a lot, so we were ready when the time came. Of course, we're nervous because we're young, have no family here, and we don't yet know the way of life here, but we hope the Cuban and American communities will help us get started.''

The success of Cuban Mikael Galindo, who defected during the 2005 Gold Cup, has created a market for Cuban players.

''I watched their game against the U.S. on TV, and I thought the Cuban team played very well,'' Luiz Muzzi, general manager of the USL's Miami FC, told the Miami Herald. "We were kind of scouting that game because any time a Cuban team comes to the United States, there's a chance someone might defect. We definitely will let them work out with us, and see if anything comes of it.''

Defecting Cubans are allowed to remain in the United States and apply for U.S. residency after one year.

The losses leave Cuba depleted for its game against Honduras on Thursday and Panama on Saturday.


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