Cuba
© AFP

Qualification history
Primarily a baseball-loving country, Cuba has nevertheless enjoyed its fair share of success on the football pitch over the last decade. Little more than makeweights in the past, the Cubans are now a regular presence at the CONCACAF Gold Cup and reached the first group phase of the qualifying competition for South Africa 2010. Pooled with USA, Trinidad and Tobago and Guatemala, they were unable to make any further progress, however.

FIFA World Cup finals history
Many years have passed since Cuba last reached the FIFA World Cup™ finals, their one and only appearance coming in France 1938, when the island’s representatives stunned Romania in a first-round replay thanks to goals from Manuel Tunas and Hector Socorro. Facing Sweden in driving rain in Antibes in the next round, they failed to adapt to the conditions and were easily beaten. Since then the Cubans have made a handful of unsuccessful attempts to return to the big stage.

The current crop
Though lacking a professional league, Cuba have managed to fashion a competitive side, thanks in part to the country’s long and proud sporting tradition. And while expectations may be somewhat lower than in neighbouring countries, the Cubans are aiming to go a step better than in the qualifiers for South Africa 2010 and reach the final six-team 'hexagonal' group. To achieve that they will need to improve on their recent CONCACAF Gold Cup showing in the United States, where they became the first team to be knocked out of the competition following back-to-back losses to Mexico and Costa Rica.

The key players
The national team is an interesting blend of veterans and up-and-coming youngsters. Now 36, goalkeeper Odelin Molina has won 102 caps in all, a record for the country, while their leading outfield player is forward Roberto Linares. Providing him with able support are the brothers Jaime and Yoel Colome, and 20-year-old Yaudel Lahera is the pick of their crop of youngsters.

Coach: Raul Gonzalez Triana
Best performance in a FIFA competition: FIFA World Cup France 1938 (Quarter-finals)
Former stars: Manuel Tunas, Hector Socorro, Lester More