Cuba's hope of Olympic football gold in Beijing ended in Tampa, Florida last Tuesday night, only hours after Cuba had drawn 1-1 with the USA in the opening round of North and Central American and Caribbean qualifiers.
Freddy Adu opened the scoring for USA with a low shot in the 14th minute, but Cuba proved resilient and responded three minutes before half time when Roberto Linares taped home a cross from Yordany Alvarez. It was Alvarez's last contribution to Cuban football.
Hours later Alvarez was one of five Cuban players to defect. He was joined by team captain, Yeniel Bermúdez, goalkeeper José Manuel Miranda, defenders Erlys García Baró and Loanni Cartayo Prieto, and midfielder Yordany Alvárez. The five were joined on Wednesday by defender Yendry Díaz and midfielder Eder Roldán and assistant coach Dagoberto Lara. The defections left the Cubans with only 11 players, since Linares was serving a suspension for a late red card he received against the Americans. Cuba were beaten by 2-0 Honduras on Thursday and lost to Panama on Saturday in their final game.
The Communist Youth Union newspaper Juventud Rebelde called the defectors “dishonorable.” The defectors talked of "dreams". “This could be our opportunity to make our dreams of becoming a professional soccer player come true,” said Loanni Prieto when interviewed at his grandfather's home in West Palm Beach. Yaniel Bermúdez added that, “In Cuba, we don’t have a future as soccer players,”
If Cuba qualifies for the World Cup, the Cuban players who remained loyal to their team may yet find a future in football. Who would want to be a Cuban defector turning out for Miami F.C. reserves when Cuba kicks off the World Cup against Brazil in Cape Town?