Cuban Soccer Expands its Horizon
By: Reinaldo Wossaert, Photos by Tito Meriño
The story goes that on December 11, 1911; the first official soccer match in Cuba was played in Havana’s Palatino Fields between the Hatuey Sport Club (with Cuban and Spanish players) and the Rovers Athletic Club (composed of English, Scots, Irish and Welshmen living on the island).
The British Crown subjects won that match 1-0, with a goal by Captain Jack Orr.
Thus Cuba celebrates a century of soccer this year, with many outstanding moments, like Cuba’s participation in the 1938 French World Cup and reaching 46th in the FIFA world ranking in 2006, the best ever by Cuba.
According to the list of positions posted in March 2011, Cuba is ranked 64th. The international performance by Cuba has increasingly improved in recent years: it placed second in the Caribbean Cups of 1996, 1999, 2003 and 2005.
In a land where baseball and boxing have longed reigned supreme, soccer has been gradually making a place for itself in Cuban preference, until it has become one of the most popular sports on the island today.
This is no coincidence. Since the creation of the National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation (INDER in Spanish) on February 23, 1961, dedicated to amateur play and following the principle “sports is people’s right”, foundations were laid to develop other sport disciplines, including volleyball, track and field, fencing, basketball, and soccer.
During that early period Cuban trainers were assisted by specialists from the former Eastern socialist bloc. Present Day Together with both male and female teams in national soccer tournaments there is now also increased practice of indoor soccer.
As part of the celebrations for the Cuban soccer centennial in 2011, the 96th National Championship is scheduled with eight teams participating from all over the country.
The contest is preliminary to Cuba’s participation in the Gold Cup of the Confederation of North, Central American, and Caribbean Football Associations (CONCACAF) to take place June 5 to 25 in several US cities.
The Cuban team gained its entry to the competition by finishing third in the Martinique Caribbean Cup, where Jamaica, Guadeloupe and Granada also classified. According to the president of the Cuban Football Federation, Luis Hernández, FIFA President Joseph Blatter will attend the island celebrations.
For the past decade, Cuban soccer has benefited from the FIFA Goal Programme that allowed creation and operation of the “Mario López” Training Centre in the Cuban capital. Now the governing body of world football will install synthetic turf in Havana’s La Polar Stadium. Previously, this project improved facilities in the capital’s Pedro Marrero Stadium, including grass and artificial lighting.