Of the twelve competing teams in the CONCACAF Zone, Cuba are the only one yet to pick up a point. At the halfway mark of the region's qualifying campaign for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, the Leones del Caribe have failed to turn their roar into results, but optimism still looms in the mind of the Caribbean team's coach.
"We should have four points," Reinhold Fanz, Cuba's German boss told FIFA.com. "But you don't see this when you look at the numbers on paper. We were the better team against Trinidad and Tobago (1-3), and a draw would have been a fair result against the USA in Havana (0-1)."
After dispatching minnows Antigua and Barbuda in the preliminary round, Cuba, whose only FIFA World Cup appearance came way back in 1938 and pre-dates the rise to power of Fidel Castro on the island, were always going to be up against it in a difficult Group 1 alongside USA and Trinidad (who both reached Germany 2006) and Guatemala, who only just missed out.
"We don't have a bad team," insisted the coach, whose thesis is borne out by the fine play of defender Jeniel Marquez, playmaker Leonel Duarte and top scorer Roberto Linares. "The problem is that we are not mature enough and lack international experience - you could see it best in the game against the USA. We need to be more professional, that's the difference between us and the other three teams in our group."
Fanz was never going to have it easy when he took over the Cuban hot-seat in January. People on the island are generally more concerned with baseball and boxing than football, and he lost seven potential senior team players when they defected to the US in March during Olympic qualifying.
"My players all play here in Cuba," said the coach, who played professionally in Germany and coached Hanover 96 and Eintracht Frankfurt. "They don't get any experience abroad, none at all. This is our biggest problem."
Hope springs eternal
Despite the three losses, Fanz is keen to keep his charges upbeat in the face of what would have to be a miraculous fight-back to finish in one of the top two Group 1 places and reach the final six-team group. "The next match against the United States in Washington will be huge," he said. "If we have the courage to act instead of just reacting, if we are aggressive and if we don't hide, then we have a chance.
"There has been progress in this team," the coach was keen to point out. "My young players are really improving, and although it's not enough to get a point in our last three games, things have gotten better."
Up next the Cubans meet the United States in Washington DC on 11 October, hosting Guatemala four days later. They finish their group campaign against T&T in Port of Spain on 19 November. Coach Fanz knows exactly what he needs in these three games: points.
"I am far away from saying: ‘I am disappointed, we lost three matches, it's over.' No, No, we are still alive," the coach concluded defiantly.