By Luke Vermeer
The Cuban national men’s soccer team is reeling after the defection of at least three players prior to their World Cup qualifying match with Canada.
The number of players who defected is still unclear but FIFA, the international soccer federation, has confirmed that at least three players left the team and reports say the number could be as high as seven.
With the defections Cuba was only able to field 11 players for their match with Canada that took place at Toronto’s BMO Field on Friday.
Defections are not a rare occurrence for Cuba, as the small Communist Caribbean nation has seen 11 players defect since 2007 during various trips to the US and Canada.
For FIFA the defections are seen as a problem.
“Definitely, it’s not only a question for the (FIFA) competitions department but it is a presidential question that I will address personally to the sports authorities in Cuba,” said FIFA president Sepp Blatter in an interview with Reuters.
Cuban head coach Alexander Gonzalez told the Toronto Star that he doesn’t begrudge his missing players.
“As with any Cuban sport team that travels around the world, they’re all chasing the American dream,” Gonzalez told The Star. “And it’s difficult to try to keep the team together, obviously it’s a difficult situation for the team and it’s tough for me to talk about it.”
For Canada the defections meant an easier game and the team took full advantage, dominating the Cubans and winning 3-0.
Steve Bottjer, writer for RedNationOnline.ca told Humber News it’s nice to finally get some breaks.
“How many times has Canada had adversity?” said Bottjer.
“Whether it’s the diving, the parties outside the hotel in Panama, or even the pitch in Cuba where the grass they were playing on was literally weeds, it’s nice to see a break finally go their way.”
The loss means Cuba is still without a point in this round of World Cup qualifying and will finish their dismal campaign when they host group leaders Panama on Tuesday.