Gonzalez signals Cuba’s bright future
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Cuba head coach Raul Gonzalez (pictured) will have plenty of talent at his disposal over the coming years. (Photo: Mexsport)

PANAMA CITY, Panama – It was never going to be easy for visiting Cuba in its Copa America Centenario play-in match against Panama on Friday.

The Lions of the Caribbean’s 23-man roster contained 14 players born in 1993 or later, while 13 players in the veteran Panamanian selection had birthdates in the 1980s.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the host ran out a 4-0 winner at the Estadio Rommel Fernandez, scoring twice in each half.

“Panama was superior to us,” said Cuba head coach Raul Gonzalez. “I think that the goal at four minutes affected us, but afterward we had several clear chances that we couldn’t finish. In the second half we gifted Panama a goal. I think Panama deserved to win, the result is fair.”

Despite the result, Gonzalez was by no means disappointed with the performance. In fact, he justifiably painted a very optimistic picture of the team’s future.

“I believe that we are very happy because this opportunity to battle for a Copa America and a Gold Cup was by four Caribbean teams and we were one of them,” said the 47-year-old. “Now the qualifiers for the Caribbean Cup are up next. We hope to continue consolidating the work of this young national team.”

After participating in the last three Gold Cups and winning the 2012 Caribbean Cup, Cuba’s position among the Caribbean elite is unquestioned. As part of an effort to expedite development, however, the Asociación de Fútbol de Cuba has started a program that enables players to join foreign clubs.

Following standout performances in the 2015 CONCACAF Men’s Olympic Championship last October, defender Adrian Arturo Diz Pe, goalkeeper Sandy Sanchez, as well as forwards Maikel Reyes and Aricheell Hernandez, were given an opportunity to link up with Mexico’s Santos. In fact, Cuba hosted the Mexican power for a friendly on November 14.

“It is an important step what our football federation is allowing,” Gonzalez finished. “We hope to have a national team with more experience and more youngsters being added to the side.”