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September 6, 2008
Who were those men behind those masks?

By Michael Lewis Editor

Havana -- Because of severe travel restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba, American soccer fans were few and far between at Saturday night's World Cup qualifying match.

If any were at the game, it was because they were on special business here or entered the country in violation of the U.S. goverment.

Three Americans did make it down, although they apparently did it illegally since their faces were masked by red, white and blue to hide their identities. They also had an American flag draped around their shoulders with a green Cuban hat with a mini-flag on it.

One American fan told reporters that he wanted to see the game and he was in the country on some business.

They posed for photos for the U.S. media before venturing to their seats.

One Cuban wearing a souvenir jersey from the 2002 World Cup who was wrapped in an American flag did not hide his loyalties, at least for this game.

"I think the USA is much better than Cuba," Manuel Diaz, who is known to his friends as Manguera.

Asked why was rooting for the U.S., Diaz replied, "I like very much sports," he said. "I came here to see the game. This is my opportunity to see very important athletes like Landon Donovan and Freddy Adu."

Diaz was told that Adu was not with the team, but he said it was no problem.

Was his three fans sitting behind him at Estadio Pedro Marrero mad at Diaz? "No problem," one said as all three friends shook their heads.

Beyond the game, Diaz said he had one wish.

"I wish I could see the next game with the USA, but I can't," he said.

The U.S.'s next game is Wednesday vs. Trinidad & Tobago in Bridgeview, Ill.

Yuri Zambrano, an amateur player who has a two-minute walk to the stadium, is a big fan of the Cuban National Team.

"If there is an important match, I usually come to see it," he said.

"In spite of the fact there are problems between the governments, there must be a friend atmosphere."

The only time the U.S. played here was in 1947, 5-0 and 5-2 losses.

"Some 60 years without playing a National Team match in Cuba, it is fantastic," he said.

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