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Know Your Opponent: Cuba Edition

The Republic of Cuba is the largest island of the Greater Antilles and the most populous nation in the Caribbean. The name “Cuba” means “great place” which, depending on your political preference, you may or may not agree with.

Cuba has been a Socialist Republic for almost fifty years now, but its history extends as far back as 1492. It was then that the small island nation was discovered by Christopher Columbus. Columbus claimed it for his Spanish benefactors and it wasn’t long before Spain started doing what it did best back then: using its imperialism to steal all of its new acquisition’s wealth while simultaneously oppressing and enslaving the local indigenous people. Hey, the Spanish weren’t the only ones doing it, but they sure had it down to a science.

Throughout the 19th century, U.S. politicians in the South incessantly sought to annex Cuba so they could strengthen their pro-slavery policies. President James K. Polk even made a few offers for Cuba, but Spain wouldn’t sell because Cuba was all it had left in the Americas by then and the U.S.’s low-ball offer was exceeded by the value of the annual yield of sugar and mollasses from the small island.

Eventually, the Cubans got fed up with the Spanish and started to try to kick those damn imperialists out. The U.S. decided not to intervene in that war (shocker!). However, in 1898, we thought they blew up our battleship so we kicked a little ass to show them who was boss (turns out it was Teddy Roosevelt). Years later, scholars would argue the ship probably exploded accidentally and the U.S. just pinned it on our southern neighbors to drum up some nationalistic fervor (never ends well). Hey, either way, we got to bust some heads, right?

In 1902, Cuba finally shirked Spain. Under the new constitution, we got to keep Guantanamo Bay and we still have it today. I understand we have some sort of all-inclusive resort there now. All the food, drink, medical treatment and water boarding one can handle. From my understanding, it’s sort of like those Sandals Resorts, only no one ever gets to leave and there’s less beach volleyball. Shuffleboard is still very popular though.

In 1959, Castro and Guevara decided to bust some heads of their own and seized power from Batista. Ever since, it seems Cuba and the U.S. haven’t exactly gotten along so well. They kicked us all out (see Godfather II) and many of their own people tried to get here on their own. As a result, Miami is now the cultural center of the Cuban-American community and its still pretty active in trying to get Cubans to kick some Socialist ass of their own.

In 1962, we (and the USSR) almost blew up the whole damn world because those Red Ruskies wanted to put their atom bombs in Cuba (after all, we had them close to Russia stashed in some delicious Turkey). Though the crisis was averted, Cuba’s decision to play launching pad for the Russians was the final straw for the U.S. Once the finest Cuban-American actor Hector Elizondo (ever seen Necessary Roughness?) in the history of stage and screen defected to the U.S., the Cubans knew it was blood feud time.

The fall of the USSR hurt Cuba tremendously, but it still is doing pretty well all things considered. Fidel has ceded power to his brother, but he’s still freaking alive, which is pretty amazing when you consider he was running Cuba at the same time Ike Eisenhower occupied the White House. Fidel’s brother, Raul, appears to be more inclined to modernize the tiny nation. One of his first actions was to remove the ban on DVD players (see Godfather II).

Fidel Castro’s fingerprints are still all over Cuba though. He made sports, especially baseball, Cuba’s national passion. You could tell he took great pleasure in beating the U.S. in just about anything. Obviously, he preferred when the U.S. would travel to Havana for games, as trips to the U.S. seemed to always result in what he termed the U.S.’s “theft” of his athletes.

Now, I’m not really sure that’s accurate, Fidel. If your athletes decide they want to stay in the U.S. rather than return to cultural and political oppression, I’d call that “choice”, not theft. I know this whole “choice” thing can be difficult for a Communist dictator like yourself to wrap your head around, but it basically means the athletes who defect choose to make millions in the U.S. and live out their dreams instead of being forced to stay in Cuba to play for you for minimal pay.

We may have to agree to disagree on that one though.

Hey, and if we practiced the theft of players, do you think anybody on Barcelona would be back in Spain right now?

Personally, I don’t even think Cuba has anyone on its national soccer team we would want to steal right now. We already got all of their best ones (2 in 2002, 1 in 2005, 2 in 2007 and a whopping 7 in 2008). Though, if they do want to retaliate, they are more than welcome to have Heath Pearce (I joke, but seriously, if they want just one, give them Heath).

Cuba’s team is pretty hard to nail down (the coaches try when they stay in America though). They’ve only made it to one World Cup (the 1938 one too) and they lost 8-0 to Sweden. Not too impressive. However, they’ve recently been rising in the FIFA world rankings (currently #92) and they have one huge advantage over the U.S. team: familiarity. Their entire team is composed of guys who play for four different Cuban professional sides. That means they play together pretty much all day, every day. Meanwhile, we have players from leagues in more than four countries appearing together on the pitch.

We should easily dispatch the Cubans and improve our record to 2-0, both huge away wins. The U.S. Nats should be fired up as it’s been 61 years since we played there and we have a comfortable 5-1-1 record against them all-time. In the 2005 Gold Cup, we torched them 4-1. At the ’03 Gold Cup, Donovan had perhaps his finest day for the MNT against Cuba as he notched 4 goals.

Let’s hope Donovan can do it again. If so, he’ll probably agree that its a pretty “great place” to be. If not, maybe Landycakes should spend a night or two at Guantanamo. It’ll toughen him up and I hear the nightly buffets are marvelous.

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  • Walter Lippmann September 5, 2008, 1:12 pm

    Readers here might enjoy seeing the first notes in the Cuban newspaper GRANMA had to day this morning. Granma was the boat which took Fidel Castro and his friends from Mexico to Cuba in 1956 to begin the second armed phase of the Cuban Revolution.

    Anyway, today’s GRANMA tells its readers:

    World Cup Qualifying: US vs. Cuba in Havana

    MIGUEL HERNANDEZ
    miguel.hm@granma.cip.cu

    The first US soccer team in 61 years to visit Cuba will take on the national squad at the Pedro Marrero Stadium in Havana on Saturday, 8:00 p.m. as part of World Cup qualifying play.

    CUBAN FANS ARE CONFIDENT IN STRIKER LINARES’ ABILITY TO SCORE

    Cuban soccer authorities said that tickets are already on sale at the Pedro Marrero and Ramon Fonst Stadiums.

    Cuba and the United States have not faced each other in World Cup qualifying since 1949 when they met twice (1-1 and 5-2 in favor of the US) during a tournament held in Mexico, DF.

    The teams also met during the Pan American Games and the CONCACAF Gold Cup which since 1998 has been held on US fields.

    During the last decade, results have clearly favored the US. The closest game was in 2002 in Pasadena that ended with the US winning 1-0 after a controversial penalty was called against Da Marcus Beasley who still plays on the national team coached under Brad Bradley.

    Cuba was the first Caribbean nation to play in a World Cup, in France 1938, their only appearance. Afterwards, their world presence was reduced to their under-17 team that appeared in Word Cups in 1989 and 1991.

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