Monday, November 26, 2007

U.S.-Cuba showdown looming in World Cup

Chicago Sun Times

November 26, 2007

The United States will open qualifying for the 2010 World Cup in June against the tiny Caribbean nations of Barbados or Dominica and is likely to wind up in a politically charged semifinal group with Cuba.

''The opportunity to play in Cuba will be significant,'' U.S. coach Bob Bradley said after goalie Kasey Keller set the matchup by plucking a blue ball from a bowl during the World Cup draw Sunday in Durban, South Africa. ''I think the players will look forward to it.''

The U.S. team, which will be trying to reach its sixth consecutive World Cup, has a first-round bye. After advancing to the quarterfinals in 2002, it was eliminated in the first round in 2006.

''We're pretty excited to get the process started,'' U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra said. ''Playing in Cuba would be a new experience. As we know from previous qualifying campaigns, it's tough to play in hostile environments like the ones we find in Guatemala and [Trinidad & Tobago]. From difficult conditions to hostile fans, you can't take any of these games for granted.''

The U.S. team is 5-1-1 against Cuba but never has traveled to the island nation. The teams have not met in a World Cup qualifier since 1949, when they played twice in Mexico City. The teams tied in their first matchup, and the United States won the second 5-2 to reach the 1950 tournament.

The United States has maintained sanctions against Cuban leader Fidel Castro's government since 1962. Cuba has come to this country to play in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, but the teams have not met since the United States earned a 4-1 victory in the 2005 Gold Cup in Seattle.

''We've got an opponent in June, and if we're successful with that, we'll look at the semifinals,'' U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati said. ''We played all three teams previously, but we haven't played Cuba away. That would pose some new challenges. But they are soccer challenges, and we'll deal with all those other issues at the time.''

No comments: