At the end of 2014 and the beginning of 2015, Cuban soccer will be competing on four fronts. Cuban U17 and U20 national teams both qualified for full CONCACAF tournaments out of smaller Caribbean tournaments. A U21 squad will compete in the Central American and Caribbean Games in late November in Mexico.
With a chance to enter the 2015 Gold Cup next summer in the United States, Cuba’s full national team kicks off its play in the 2014 Caribbean Cup on November 11.
Cuba’s U17 finished 3rd place in the U17 Caribbean Cup, a qualifying tournament for the 2015 CONCACAF U17 Championship. Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago and St. Lucia will represent the Caribbean Zone in that regional tournament.
Cuba bested Dominica (4-0) and Suriname (2-0) to advance out of the first group stage of Caribbean qualifying for the CONCACAF tournament. In the second round of group play, Cuba demolished Guadeloupe (5-0) and defeated Martinique (1-0) before losing to Jamaica (0-3). By virtue of finishing second in Group B, the Caribbean Lions qualified for the full regional tournament.
As a consolation of sorts after already advancing to the CONCACAF tournament, Cuba beat Saint Lucia (2-0) on October 26 to win third place in the Caribbean competition.
Cuba’s U17 team will play in one of two groups of 6 teams early next year for the opportunity to qualify to the 2015 FIFA U17 World Cup in Chile.
In addition to the five teams from the Caribbean that have already qualified, North America’s three teams (Canada, Mexico, and the United States) enter the CONCACAF tournament automatically. The final two entrants from Central America are still to be decided in three weeks, but Honduras are in as tournament hosts and Costa Rica has assured its passage through one of two qualifying groups.
Cuba’s U20 national team also finds itself in the upcoming CONCACAF tournament. Though the squad started its qualifying campaign rather unceremoniously back in June, Cuba somehow squeaked through.
Cuba was placed in a qualifying group alongside Martinique, Barbados, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. After two draws to open the group in late June, Cuba’s 3-1 win over Martinique earned the Lions passage into the second group stage.
In that second round of group play in September, Cuba defeated Curaçao (1-0) before losing to Suriname (0-1). Cuba entered its final group stage match against Trinidad and Tobago with its future uncertain. The young Soca Warriors had already clinched their own qualification and may have taken their foot off the pedal, allowing Cuba to grab the early lead in the game. Though Trinidad and Tobago did battle back for a draw, Curaçao’s victory over Suriname meant Cuba finished second in Group A.
In an odd happenstance, Cuba’s U20 team won the consolation match against Aruba (2-1) to finish third overall in the 2015 CONCACAF U20 Championship Qualifying Tournament in the Caribbean.
Cuba will be joined by Haiti, Aruba, Trinidad and Tobago, and hosts Jamaica from the Caribbean. The three North American teams (Canada, Mexico, and the United States) enter the tournament automatically while Panama, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala qualified out of Central America.
Cuba kicks off its 2015 CONCACAF U20 campaign in early January. The Cuban hopefuls face Mexico on January 10, Honduras on the 12th, Haiti on the 15th, Canada on the 19th, and El Salvador on the 22nd.
The tournament features two groups of six teams each and the group winners automatically advance to the 2015 U20 World Cup in New Zealand. The next four best teams are seeded based on group stage results. These four teams play (1 v 4, 2 v 3) and the winners of each match also advance to the World Cup.
There is a tough road ahead for Cuba’s u20 team but the isolated island nation does have a track record recently at the youth level.
Cuba qualified for the 2013 U20 World Cup in Turkey and even though they finished with 0 points and a -9 GD, the squad showed well for a program with such limited resources.
Cuba’s U20 team turned a few heads at the 2013 qualifying tournament in Puebla, Mexico. Finishing the tournament in fourth place earned the Caribbean Lions a berth in that dubious World Cup. Creative forward Maykel Reyes was particularly impressive and he has continued his participation with the national team program.
Cuba’s under 21 team will take part in the Central American and Caribbean Games in Veracruz, Mexico, in November. There is heavy overlap between the squads for these two competitions.
The 2014 Central American and Caribbean Games is organized into two groups of four teams. Cuba, which starts play on November 19, is in a group with Costa Rica, Haiti, and Venezuela. This tournament uses U21 teams with up to three overage players allowed in the 20-man squad.
Cuba’s full senior national team qualified for the 2014 Caribbean Cup by virtue of lifting the trophy in 2012. Though that surprise title run was in part due to Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago under-performing, Cuba has a strong opportunity to qualify for the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Kicking off on November 11, Cuba faces French Guiana, Curaçao, and Trinidad and Tobago. The top two finishers from each of the two groups advance to next year’s Gold Cup while the better of the the third-placed teams squares off against Honduras for the final berth into the full CONCACAF tournament.
Cuba’s youth teams have both managed to qualify for important Caribbean tournaments and the senior side has performed in recent competitions. However it is difficult to predict whether Cuba is fully prepared for the Caribbean Cup since the team didn’t participate in the qualification cycle.