Cuba aims for first U-20 World Cup berth
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 PUEBLA, México -- Before the CONCACAF Under-20 Championship commenced, few would have looked at Cuba as one of the favorites to advance to the World Cup in Turkey. Today, the team coached by Raul Gonzalez is one game from making history.

Cuba has never qualified for the FIFA event in this age group, but the current generation is making the fans, and even the coach, dream.

Led by their captain, Adrian Arturo Diz Pe, and with the goal scoring exploits of Maikel Reyes, the Caribbean side has become the surprise package of the event. After winning both of its group-phase games, it faces Costa Rica on Tuesday for a spot in the World Cup and a place in the CONCACAF semifinals.

"Cuba will be a dangerous rival for any opponent, I have no doubt of that," said Gonzalez. "We might not be considered the favorites, but we can fight against anyone. It could be that this time we make it to the World Cup."

What Cuba has shown during its first two games supports that stance. The Caribbean Lions beat their Group B opponents with a system based on defensive order, first touch passing and explosive attacking.

Diz Pe is the man giving the orders on the defensive line. In addition to physical strength, the defender has demonstrated clarity when initiating the attack, attracting the attention of many scouts on hand in Puebla.

In midfield, Daniel Luis Saez has stood out. A hard working midfielder, who can recover the ball and distribute into the attack, he's the brains of the team. Though there are occasions when he remains somewhat quiet on the pitch, his uncanny ability to make an incisive pass is a difference maker for the Cubans.

Reyes is the man in charge of turning that work into goals, while Jordan Santa Cruz -- an industrious No. 9 -- completes the pairing. Despite being a scorer, Reyes seldom remains static in the area, but rather finds his way out to the sidelines to become a first outlet option. His physical prowess allows him to go by opponents on the dribble and filter in on goal, as he did in netting the opener against the Canada on February 18. He has three goals in the tournament, just one behind the leader, Amet Ramirez of Panama.

Moreover, the entire under-20 roster comes from the ranks of Cuban football, which fills Gonzalez with pride.

"All of them are made in Cuba, they're our pure quality," the coach said. "I think we're a good team, capable of fighting."

Canada and Nicaragua already succumbed to that quality. Costa Rica is the last obstacle standing between Cuba and that first World Cup.

Two years ago in Guatemala, the Ticos were also Cuba's quarterfinal rival. The 6-1 defeat was as painful as it was one-sided. But this group of young Cubans and its coach has faith that they can rewrite that story, and make history for their country's football.