Cuban football praised in FIFA/CONCACAF visit

HAVANA, Cuba - At the third and final destination of their three-day tour of the Caribbean, FIFA President Joseph Blatter, FIFA Vice President and CONCACAF President Jeffrey Webb and FIFA Secretary General Jérôme Valcke visited Cuba.

The delegation paid tribute to Cuban football, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2011, reviewed the results of projects initiated with FIFA's support and were invited a private meeting with President Raul Castro, who expressed his continued commitment to support the development of the sport in the country.

"The progress of Cuban football on and off the field has been remarkable," said Webb. "The men's national team won its first Caribbean title last year and it has qualified for six of the last seven CONCACAF Gold Cups.

"Football has a long and rich history on the island and I'm delighted that we are here to recognize its many achievements."

At a press conference, Blatter expressed his admiration for Cuban football: "Cuba is an example for many national associations to follow, especially when it comes to the relationship between the association and government, whose support is essential in providing funding for the coaches and staff who look after the national teams."

Cuba has also experienced success at the youth and women's level.

Earlier this year, its men's under-20 squad qualified to the FIFA U-20 World Cup for the first time by advancing to the semifinals of the 2013 CONCACAF Under-20 Championship in Puebla, Mexico. The women's national team advanced to the final round of Olympic Qualifying in January 2012, holding CONCACAF power and eventual-finalist Canada to two first-half goals in a 2-0 group stage defeat.

FIFA's role in those accomplishments was recognized by Luis Hernandez, President of the Cuba Football Association: "FIFA's support is very important to Cuban football because it allows us to press on with our development programmes, particularly at youth level and in women's football."

After departing Cuba, Blatter and the FIFA delegates traveled to Panama to attend Friday's XXVIII CONCACAF Ordinary Congress.