- Cuba midfielder Arichel Hernandez talks all things World Cup qualifying
- He stresses the need to play more top-level nations to develop
- "I feel a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for playing in the first round"
The start of Concacaf qualifying for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ is on the horizon and one of the teams eager to take to the field in the first round of qualifiers is Cuba.
Helping lead the charge is midfielder Arichel Hernandez, who currently plies his trade in the Dominican Republic for Universidad O&M and started all seven matches for Cuba during the Concacaf Gold Cup 2019 and 2019/20 Concacaf Nations League (CNL).
“I think the new qualifying format is good and is the best Concacaf could have done, taking into account the delay due to the Coronavirus,” said Hernandez in an exclusive interview with Concacaf.com. "I feel a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for playing in the first round.
"We’ll see which group we’ll get drawn into. Personally, I’m very excited about it and my team-mates and I are all anxious to play these games. I feel like we have a solid team for these qualifiers."
2019 proved to be a challenging year for Cuba, with the team unable to advance past the group stage at the Gold Cup and finishing third in Group A of League A of the CNL. Nevertheless, Hernandez believes there are plenty of lessons learned from the past year that can be applied to the future.
“2019 was a difficult year for Cuban football, but as I have told my team-mates and people within the federation, in those tournaments we are playing against big teams and we need more preparation," he said. "It is always important to look at the positive side of things and within those two competitions, despite the results, from a personal level I think it is a positive thing in my career to play against big teams. That is something I want to experience more."
The 26-year-old also notes that having ample preparation is crucial to Cuba’s success, as evidenced by the team’s stellar performances in CNL qualifying when they won three and lost one.
He said: “I think a key thing from CNLQ was the preparation that we had and I think we were able to prepare better for those qualifiers than when we prepared to play the Gold Cup against Mexico, Martinique and Canada. We prepared better, we had more time.
“We have to have that desire to win, which means having the preparation and the conditions for the Cuban players both in the sporting and personal aspect, which is fundamental. Also, we need that international experience. Sometimes we make childish mistakes and we lack that international experience to handle those things.
"There is also a lack of tactical experience at the international level. The goals that opponents score on us happen because of a bad movement or a miscue and those are things that need to be corrected so they don’t happen again."
In addition to Concacaf World Cup qualifying, the next 12 months will see Hernandez and Cuba participating in the Gold Cup 2021 qualifiers, with the Leones del Caribe in search of a tenth Gold Cup qualification.
“Because we haven’t had a chance to play during this time, the next year will be quite difficult," Hernandez said. "We also have Gold Cup qualifiers and we hope to take that step and return to the tournament and have a good performance."
Yet at the end of the day, whether it is the Gold Cup or World Cup qualifying, wearing the Cuba shirt is the highest honour that Hernandez feels as a footballer.
“For me it is the greatest thing I have been able to experience as a player and as a person, since representing your country is the biggest honour one can have. As a footballer, those are unique experiences. As long as I am available and the coaches call me up, I will always represent my country because I love my country and that’s why I prepare myself every day."