The Cuban national soccer team, which is scheduled to play a Gold Cup preliminary match against French Guiana Saturday night in Fort Lauderdale, was stranded in Nicaragua Friday night with visa complications, per multiple sources.
Cuba’s team spent the week in Nicaragua training, and was expected to arrive in South Florida on Thursday. A Friday press conference at DRV PNK Stadium was canceled.
Canal Caribe, a Cuban T.V. station, aired an interview Friday with Oliet Rodriguez, the commissioner of the Cuban soccer federation, who said: “The visa situation of the Cuban national team remains the same. We do not have a definitive answer regarding our participation in the event (Gold Cup). The team continues to train. We are determined to work until the last minute. Even if it is necessary to arrive and go directly to the field, we will still have the conviction that we can have a good result. We hope the situation can be resolved and we can satisfy the Cuban people who love football and who expect so much from this team that has been growing.
Cuba’s participation in this Gold Cup was highly anticipated because the roster includes 18 players who play professionally abroad, including forward Onel Hernandez, a Cuban-German dual national who plays for Norwich City in England.
Hernandez, 28, was called to the national team in March and scored two goals in World Cup qualifying matches.
Only five players are based in Cuba. In the past, the entire roster was domestic. Players who plied their trade elsewhere were not considered for the national team. Over the years, several players defected during the Gold Cup tournament.
This time, there are four Cuban players based in the United States, including 17-year-old forward Dairon Reyes and defender Modesto Mendez, who play for Inter Miami’s USL Fort Lauderdale team. The other U.S.-based players are goalkeeper Raiko Arozarena of the Tampa Bay Rowdies and defender Jorge Corrales of FC Tulsa.
The Cuban roster also includes four players from the Guatemalan leagues, two from Brazil, and one each from leagues in Spain, Italy, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, San Marino, Norway and England.
As of Saturday morning, it was unknown whether Cuba would make it to Fort Lauderdale in time for the 7 p.m. kickoff.
The other two matches at DRV PNK Stadium Saturday are Bahamas vs. Guadeloupe (4:30) and Guatemala vs. Guyana (9:30 p.m.). The winners of the six matches move on to a three-game slate on Tuesday July 9 and the winners of those games earn the final three spots in the CONCACAF Gold Cup group stage.