For Caribbean national teams, games against the United States have become something akin to a mission impossible. Indeed, the Stars and Stripes have not tasted defeat against a Caribbean island side since 1994, an unbeaten run spanning an impressive 14 years. That could all change on Saturday, however, as they travel to face Reinhold Fanz's Cuba in Group 1 of the third round of qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ - a match you can follow LIVE on FIFA.com's EMIRATES MatchCast.
The omens are not good for Cuba's Leones del Caribe, as the Caribbean proved a happy hunting ground for the United States even prior to their current unbeaten spell. Who can forget the USA's momentous 1-0 win in Trinidad and Tobago that sealed their place at Italy 1990, their first appearance at the FIFA World Cup finals for 40 years?
The last time the Americans were beaten on Caribbean soil came in a 1-0 friendly defeat against the very same Soca Warriors on 19 November 1994. Since that day the US have racked up a remarkable 23 wins and nine draws. Most recently, the side now coached by Bob Bradley thumped Barbados 9-0 on aggregate in the second round of South Africa 2010 qualifying.
Though current form and the history books position the North Americans as clear favourites in Havana, Cuba have made a great deal of progress in recent years. That said, unlike many other sports where Cuba can compete on an even footing with their US rivals, the country's club sides are still some way off matching their American counterparts.
Since 1947, the year of the two sides' first meeting, the pair have faced off on seven occasions. Cuba have taken the spoils just once, winning that very first match 5-2 in Havana. Since then it has been one-way traffic, USA recording victories in each of the sides' last five encounters, scoring 18 times and conceding just twice in the process.
Long wait at an end
Intriguingly, that emphatic 5-2 success from 61 years ago was the last time the Stars and Stripes played in the Cuban capital. This time around, above and beyond the rivalry engendered by the nations' traditionally frosty relationship, at stake are three vital points in Group 1 of the third stage of qualifying for South Africa 2010.
"It's been a very long time since that last game," said USA coach Bob Bradley. "It's going to be a unique experience and one we're all looking forward to. But we must not forget that we have to stay focused and understand just how important this match is in terms of World Cup qualifying."
Awaiting the northern visitors should be a fiercely partisan atmosphere, with the home fans sure to get fully behind their side as they seek to put their 3-1 opening group defeat to Trinidad and Tobago behind them.
"We're always more fired up when we take on the United States," says Cuban keeper Dany Quintero. "We really don't like losing against them. The fans are really up for this match and we're expecting the stadium to be full."
A packed arena would be a real boon for the Cuban national side, as the beautiful game has long played second fiddle there behind baseball, the national sport, as well as boxing, in which Cuba are a genuine world force. And a full house would also provide the perfect setting for the Leones to strike a blow for Caribbean football and end the United States' long unbeaten run.
The scene is therefore set for a classic encounter, one that FIFA.com users can follow minute-by-minute on this Saturday's LIVE Emirates MatchCast (only available in English).
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