September 4, 2008
By Michael Lewis
Cuba desperately needs win to stay alive, U.S. a victory to get into driver's seat
HAVANA -- The event that shook the Western Hemisphere and the rest of the world happened nearly 50 years ago, but wherever you go in this capital city, it is difficult not to be reminded of what Fidel Castro and Che Guevara engineered.
|US Coach Bob Bradley is taking a "business as usual" approach to preparing for Saturday's historic World Cup Qualifier in Havana.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
Whether it is in advertisements on billboards, graffiti on the side of buildings or just the likeness of those two men, the Revolucion is omnipresent.
On Saturday, the Cuban National Team will try for a revolution of another kind against the U.S. National Team in a vital World Cup qualifier (ESPN Classic, Galavision, 8 p.m.).
The Cubans (0-1), who were beaten at home by Trinidad & Tobago in their first match, 3-1, desperately need a victory in the CONCACAF semifinal round to keep their already flagging hopes alive. A second consecutive road win would put the U.S. (1-0), 1-0 winners in Guatemala Aug. 20 -- into the drivers' seat on their quest to reach the final round and eventually South Africa in 2010.
With so much at stake, U.S. coach Bob Bradley tries to make it business as usual.
"First and foremost, it's a World Cup qualifier," he said in Miami earlier this week. The U.S. team is scheduled to arrive here Thursday. "The way we go about preparing for these games doesn't change."
But it is a rare chance for a U.S. sports team to play in a country that hasn't had formal relations with the United States in nearly five decades. The only other time the U.S. National Team played here was in 1947.
"We also recognize this as a unique opportunity," he said.
"Not many Americans have an opportunity to go over to Cuba," midfielder Maurice Edu said. "The main focus for us right now is to get a result in the game."
As it turns out, Bradley has a family connection to Cuba. As a Marine, his father Gerry served in Guantanamo Bay around 1950. Bradley has a black and white picture of his father taken at the U.S. Naval base.
"It's a very beautiful place," Bradley said. "I'm sure it's different now, but it will be really interesting to see [Cuba] in person."
With Americans restricted on traveling to Cuba, few U.S. fans are expected to attend the game. Bradley said he expects a pro-Cuban crowd that will react the same as any group of spectators in WCQ in the Caribbean or Central America.
But former Cuban international forward Maykel Galindo, who defected to the U.S. in 2005 and who currently plays for Chivas USA, said the local crowd will not be disrespectful to the American side.
"In a game environment they’ll yell stuff at you, but it’s the same as anywhere," he said in a recent e-mail interview. "They’re just supporting their team. But they won’t be disrespectful like throwing things at you or saying things during the national anthem."