The FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey marks a significant milestone for the Caribbean island nation of Cuba, who will be lining up for the first time at the world youth showpiece. The first Caribbean nation to take part in a senior FIFA World Cup™ way back 1938, the Cubans have had little to celebrate in the international arena since then, making the youth team’s fourth-place finish at the CONCACAF qualifying tournament in Mexico a significant step forward.
The sporting scene in Cuba traditionally revolves around baseball and boxing, but football is on the up there too. Significant investment in youth development means that the current U-20 outfit is the country’s strongest in Cuban history. With speed and good organisation, the side - led by the goals of Arichel Hernandez and coached by Raul Gonzalez - will be looking for more than just a nod of recognition when hostilities begin in Turkey. They beat Panama and Nicaragua before seeing off the much-fancied Costa Ricans in qualifying.
The Cubans will not be favourites to reach too far into the finals in Turkey, but a combination of their youthful exuberance and a crop of surprisingly talented players might just see them turn a few heads. “This is a great triumph for Cuba football as a whole,” said Cuba’s FA President Luis Hernandez. “it’s a dream for us to go to Turkey because there is an awful lot of competition at this level.”