|Yenier Bermudez is one of seven Cubans who defected from the under-23 team this week in Florida. (Getty Images)
(ATR) Despite seven defections from the team, Cuba plans to continue play in Tampa, Fla. this weekend at the regional qualification tournament in football for the Beijing Olympics.
Five players left the team Tuesday after a surprising 1-1 draw with the U.S. Two more left Thursday, leaving the Cuban squad under-manned from the start of its match against Honduras, not even able to substitute players. Cuba lost 2-0 and still has to play Panama Saturday. The odds have now grown very long for Cuba to return to the Olympics in football for the first time since 1980.
State-run newspaper Granma has yet to report anything on the Cuban team since the draw with the U.S. three days ago.
In comments to Reuters, the head of the Cuban Football Federation labels the defections “an act of treason and irresponsibility”.
The defectors have ended up in Miami, where talk about them joining a Miami professional team has been quashed for now until their legal status in the U.S. is determined.
"We are fine, calm, feeling hopeful of our new lives," former captain Yenier Bermudez is quoted in the Miami Herald.
|Livan Vasconcelos reacts to Cuba’s loss to Honduras Thursday night. (Getty Images)
"Of course we are nervous because we're young and have no family here. We don't yet know the way of life here, but we hope Cuban and American communities will help us get started," he tells the paper.
Along with Bermudez, the other players reported to have defected include goalkeeper Jose Manuel Miranda, defender Erlys Garcia Baro, midfielder Yordany Alvarez, defender Loanni Prieto, defender Yendri Diaz and midfielder Eder Roldan.
Under U.S. law, they should be granted political asylum, nearly automatic for Cuban refugees who reach land in the U.S.
Defections have been a steady drain on elite sport in Cuba.
Last July, two of the country’s top boxers walked away from the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, but eventually returned to Cuba.
Cuba refused to participate in the AIBA Boxing World Championships in Chicago last October for fear of defections.
The eight-team football tournament for under-23 players is organized by regional confederation CONCACAF. Two teams will win spots to play in Beijing. In addition to Tampa, first leg matches are being played at the Home Depot Center in the Los Angeles suburb of Carson. The semi-final and final matches will be held next week in Nashville, Tenn. Written by Ed Hula
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