In a country renowned for its baseball excellence a love of soccer is growing, played with homemade balls whose quality reflects the dreams and the realities of the young people who kick them about.
Soccer balls are made of materials at hand, and though they're a far cry from the real McCoy they give the players a sense that the games - played according to the rules and watched by envious spectators who failed to make the teams - are very real indeed. The goalie, selected by his young contemporaries and buoyed by his fantasies, represents an invisible boundary and he lays his very soul on the line in his efforts to halt the airborne missiles sent by the opposing team in an attempt to score their glory.
It seems an undisputed truth that this passion was born in Cuba when Diego Armando Maradona began to write his legend with the magical goals that brought his name to the lips of football fans in every corner of the globe.
Maradona first came to Cuba in 1987 to receive the Prensa Latina 1986 Athlete of the Year Award and it was then that the somewhat distant hero witnessed the birth of a devotion to the “beautiful game” in this Latin American sister nation. The recent launch of a Cuban TV sports channel marks another step forward for the game. Ample broadcasts of international championships feed the fury with the fiery excitement of real-time games between all the big clubs across Europe and Latin America.
Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atlético Madrid now form an integral part of fantasies and conversations. Along with names like Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Radamel Falcao, Diego Alves, Kaka, Ronaldinho, Diego Forlan and Andrés Iniesta, coached by Pele and Maradona, they are inspiring a new generation of Cubans to dream of attaining the same glory and eternal fame.
Such are the aspirations of young people like Ernesto Díaz, who talked to Cubaplus about his hopes of rising to stardom in the world of soccer where smartly trained and talented feet can carve a path straight from earth to the heavens. Since the country's first match was hosted in 1911, Cuban soccer has had a history marked by peaks and troughs. Its ambitions to date have focused on endeavors to reach the second round of the World Cup.
Although Díaz's first love is soccer, he's also a devoted baseball fan and his dream is that one day both will rank equally in Cuba, that young people's interest and the opportunities available to them will come together to produce home-grown soccer idols to rival the likes of the legendary Roberto Carlos, who at 1.68m tall only needed six or seven strides to cross the field and fire off arrow-like leftfooted shots towards the opposing goal at meteoric rates up to 170km per hour.