Investment triggers Cuban breakthrough
© AFP

Tuesday’s thrilling 2-1 defeat of Costa Rica in the quarter-finals of the CONCACAF qualifying competition earned Cuba a place at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013, the first time the Caribbean islanders will be gracing the world finals at this age level.

This breakthrough achievement, which will lead to Cuba’s tenth appearance in a FIFA competition, is no overnight success, as Cuban Football Association President Luis Hernandez explained: “It’s a great triumph for Cuban sport as a whole, and it’s the result of many years of well-planned work, during which time we have been supported by the Cuban government, allowing us to bring on this great generation of players.”

He added: “It’s a dream for us to go to Turkey because there is an awful lot of competition at this level. And it’s also been essential for us to have had the support of FIFA. FIFA has been working closely with us since 1998 and that has enabled us to embark on a number of infrastructure and training projects that have given our football an identity.”

Investment in infrastructure
FIFA has invested more than $5.1m in football development in Cuba over the last 14 years, $4,000,050 of which was provided by the Financial Assistance Programme, $800,000 through Goal Projects 1 and 2, and a little under $300,000 through the “Win in CONCACAF with CONCACAF” initiative, which gave the country access to equipment and expert advice.

Thanks to additional resources provided by FIFA, in the last seven years a total of 14 educational programmes have also been implemented in the areas of women’s football, refereeing, grassroots football and futsal.

Investment has also triggered specific projects, such as the improvements made at the Cuban FA’s offices in 2001 with the framework of the Goal Project 1, which also saw the installation of a grass football pitch, the building of a residence, and the creation of a medical team and a conference room with a library.

Meanwhile, the funds provided by Goal Project 2 were used to complete the Cuban FA’s academy, which now boasts a lighting system and training centre. Further Goal projects, such as the installation of an artificial pitch at the Estadio La Polar, have been approved and will be rolled out in the near future.

Although Cuba have been knocked out of the CONCACAF qualifiers for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, the islanders have high hopes of returning to the world finals before too long, having last graced them in 1938.

“We are trying to reach incremental goals and to continue improving,” said Hernandez, who has his mind set firmly on the future. “We will give the best possible account of ourselves in Turkey, and we also have every confidence in our U-17 team, which has reached the finals of the CONCACAF qualifying competition (for the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013).”

“We at FIFA have designed a number of programmes with a view to making a more effective contribution to the development of football in our member associations,” said FIFA’s Director of Member Associations and Development Thierry Regenass. “In Cuba our support has focused on infrastructures and education. We're pleased with the progress that we've seen and we're happy to keep on supporting the development of Cuban football.”