Join Now | 
HomeAboutContact UsPrivacy & SecurityAdvertise
Soccer America DailySoccer World DailySpecial EditionAround The NetSoccer Business InsiderCollege Soccer ReporterYouth Soccer ReporterSoccer on TVSoccer America ClassifiedsGame Report
Paul Gardner: SoccerTalkSoccer America ConfidentialYouth Soccer InsiderWorld Cup Watch
RSS FeedsArchivesManage SubscriptionsSubscribe
Order Current IssueSubscribeManage My SubscriptionRenew My SubscriptionGift Subscription
My AccountJoin Now
Tournament CalendarCamps & AcademiesSoccer GlossaryClassifieds
CUBA DIARY: What soccer game?
by Mike Woitalla, September 4th, 2008 6:45AM



Mike Woitalla reports from Havana

When you tell a Cuban that you're from Estados Unidos, they tend to smile and say, "Bienvenido." Mention your home to one of the many European tourists in Havana and they respond with, "So how'd you get in?" That's because it's against U.S. law for Americans visit Cuba -- up to 10 years in prison is the penalty - unless they receive special permission.

On Saturday, Cuba hosts the USA in a World Cup qualifying game. I'm here legally because the U.S. Department of the Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control authorizes some travel to Cuba by Americans. Among those eligible to receive an OFAC license are journalists.

The embargo has been in place for more than 45 years. The "basic goal of the sanctions is to isolate the Cuban government economically and deprive it of U.S. dollars," explains the OFAC.

From takeoff to landing, the 20-seat propeller plane takes an hour to reach Havana from Miami. One of the first things you see leaving the Havana airport are giant images of President George W. Bush painted on street-side walls with very unflattering captions.

There are other murals and billboards hailing the revolution of nearly 50 years ago and encouraging national unity. But there is no product advertising anywhere.

Palm trees line the streets, which are crowded with a wide array of vehicles. American cars from the 1950s -- Chevys, Buicks, Fords - cruise alongside compact cars, modern buses imported from China and three-wheeled taxis, and there are even horse-drawn wagons.

In the hotel lobby of the Parque Central in Old Havana, the television is tuned to CNN, with coverage of the Republican Convention. Later in the evening, security guard Gustavo switches to ESPN for the Red Sox-Cleveland game.

Gustavo, although a fervid baseball fan, is one of the few Cubans I've met so far who is aware and interested in Saturday's World Cup qualifying game.

"Landon Donovan is good," says Gustavo, who dons a small Real Madrid pin.

Otherwise, a survey of Havana residents reveals that so far Saturday's game hasn't created much of a buzz.

Pedro, a giant who looks like an NFL linebacker, invites Calle Obispo pedestrians into the Café de Paris by announcing, "We have the best Mojitos in Havana." It's a claim made by many bars in Havana but one isn't inclined to doubt Pedro. The mojitos cost 4 pesos -- $4.40 in U.S. dollars - and Pedro takes a break from courting customers to play maracas and dance along with the band.

Then Pedro - like several boys in the street, a policeman, a grocery store clerk and a taxi driver - says he had no idea that the USA was playing Cuba in a soccer game.

"Cubans don't play futbol," says Pedro as he swings an imaginary bat and says, "We play baseball."

When Cuba lost, 3-1, to Trinidad & Tobago two weeks ago, only 4,000 attended the game in Havana. A preliminary World Cup qualifying game drew just 2,000.

But perhaps, because it is against the USA, Saturday's game will rouse the Cubans.

No comments yet.

Sign in to leave a comment. Don't have an account? Join Now



Recent Soccer America Daily
U.S. Abroad: Fabian Johnson is on fire    
American midfielder Fabian Johnson is suddenly one of the hottest scorers in Germany. He scored two ...
What They're Saying: Jurgen Klinsmann    
"Watching the MLS playoffs has been tremendously exciting. The games in the first round with the ...
Klinsmann: Nagbe is a 'great fit' for national team    
One of the standouts in the MLS playoffs has been Darlington Nagbe, who has helped the ...
What They're Saying: Didier Drogba    
"It's a different challenge [in MLS]. People think it's easy to play there. Believe me, it's ...
What They're Saying: Stocksbridge Park Steels chairman Allen Bethel    
"I can't believe what I've been seeing on Saturday nights. He's always on his own. Why ...
MLS: Sporting KC continues talks with five free agents    
Sporting Kansas City re-signed 12 of the 13 players it had options on -- all but ...
MLS: Orlando City declines option on Hall    
Stemming from the roster moves announced Wednesday, Orlando City SC may not look radically different in ...
MLS: Revs re-sign Kobayashi, send three to Portugal    
New England announced Wednesday it has renewed the options on 14 players, signed midfielder Daigo Kobayashi ...
Sacramento wants to show it's ready to roll    
While efforts by David Beckham's group to find land for a soccer stadium in Miami appear ...
Johnson scores again in Champions League    
Fabian Johnson scored in his second straight game for Borussia Moenchengladbach in the UEFA Champions League ...
>> Soccer America Daily Archives