It’s been reported that three of the four missing players have defected and the other one was sick. The players didn’t hang around in Canada for too long though as U.S. immigration officials confirmed that three Cuban soccer players crossed the border into America on Oct. 11. Sources wouldn’t say where the players are or if they were being held by U.S. authorities, but they crossed the border at Niagara Falls and agents said they didn’t make any arrests.
Cuban coach Alexander Gonzalez confirmed that three of his players went missing and the fourth was indeed too ill to play the game, which Canada won 3-0. Since there are 11 players on a soccer team it meant the Cubans didn’t have any substitutes. To make matters worse, one of their players was sent off with a red card and the team was reduced to 10 men. Gonzalez said it’s not unusual for Cuban athletes to defect in western countries since they’re all trying to live the American dream.
Several players have defected from the communist nation in the last several years. In March of 2008, five
soccer players with the nation’s Under-23 team disappeared in Tampa, Fla. If they can’t fly the coop in America many of them are doing it within Canada, its neighbor to the north. Seven athletes defected in Winnipeg in 1999 while in the city for the Pan-Am Games and a Cuban radio reporter also joined them.
Also, in January of this year, two female soccer players defected while playing against Canada in Vancouver, British Columbia. The two women didn’t have their passports with them since team officials collected them from all of the players. They headed south from Vancouver to the U.S. border and showed officials their Cuban Identity Cards.
FIFA, the world governing body of soccer, is expected to address the situation with Cuban soccer officials and may impose some sort of sanctions or punishment. Many fans feel the situation is making the world Cup qualifying event unfair because Cuba isn’t fielding its usual team when it plays on the road. They claim that the best players are left out of the squad and aren’t allowed to travel with the team because it’s feared they may defect.
The game in Toronto was a prime example and even arriving with just 15 players for the match against Canada is considered to be too small of a squad. Cuba belongs to the CONCACAF soccer region of FIFA, which is the Central American and Caribbean Association Football.