Published March 14, 2008
TAMPA, Fla. – Fidel Castro might be gone from power, but some things never change.
Seven members of Cuba's national soccer team, which tied the United States in an Olympic qualifying match Tuesday night, deserted the team before its match Thursday against Honduras.
Cuba, which could only field 10 players, lost the match, 2-0, in Group A play of the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament.
Five players left the under-23 squad after a 1-1 draw with the U.S. on Tuesday night. Officials have not identified the missing players. But absent from yesterday's practice were: Jose Manuel Miranda, Erlys Garcia Baro, Yenier Bermudez, Yordany Alvarez and Loanni Prieto.
Two more players disappeared Wednesday night — Yendry Diaz and Eder Roldan. And Roberto Linares was automatically suspended a game for receiving a red card.
Under the United States' "wet foot, dry foot" policy, Cubans who reach U.S. soil are allowed to remain in the country and apply for U.S. residency after one year.
Tampa police spokeswoman Andrea Davis said the agency had not received any missing persons reports from the team, and officers were not called to the team's hotel to investigate the disappearances.
A Cuban team leader would not discuss details on Wednesday, and said he was most concerned about Thursday's match against Honduras.
"We have a very important game ... and we are concentrating on that," said Luis Hernandez, president of the Soccer Association of Cuba and the only team official to address the media.
When asked what the team planned to do without the players, Hernandez said simply, "Win — with the five, without the five — win."
Cuba, which still has a chance to qualify when it plays Panama on Saturday, was exploring whether it would be allowed to add players before the match.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.