HAVANA, Cuba (September 6, 2008) - In their first trip to Havana in 61 years, the U.S. Men’s National Team defeated Cuba, 1-0, to move into first place in Group 1 in the Semifinal Round of FIFA World Cup qualifying. Clint Dempsey provided the game-winner with an opportunistic strike in the 40th minute to give the U.S. the three valuable points.
Facing Cuba in Cuba for just the second time in history, the U.S. had to quickly get accustomed to a bumpy and uneven field that was also slick from rain that started a few hours before kickoff. Despite the tough conditions, the U.S. was solid defensively, while controlling possession and finding moments to get forward and create chances on goal.
Defender Oguchi Onyewu started the play that led to the game-winning goal, hitting a long ball from the midfield stripe into the penalty area towards Dempsey and Brian Ching. Carlos Domingo was able to win the challenge in the air with Dempsey, but his header hit the back of the U.S. midfielder and deflected to the feet of Ching. Holding off a defender on his back, Ching one-timed the ball back to Dempsey who had turned to face goal, and he took one touch across the goal before slamming a low drive from 15 yards out inside the left post. The goal was Dempsey’s third in 10 qualifying appearances.
The U.S. backline and goalkeeper Tim Howard were solid once again to give the U.S. their fourth straight qualifying shutout, and record third straight road qualifying victory. Howard made three saves on the night, including a fantastic game-saving effort in the 88th minute to push aside a Yeniel Marquez header that had deflected off the shin of Carlos Bocanegra and looked destined for the lower right corner.
"Cuba did a good job of responding after their first game. It meant a lot to them and as a result it was a tight game,” said U.S. head coach Bob Bradley. “I thought once again we dealt well with some difficult conditions and came away with a good result. We’ve played in two tough games on the road now and have six points, putting ourselves in a very good position going into the match against Trinidad & Tobago on Wednesday.”
The U.S. will return to the United States on Sunday in preparation for their third match of the Semifinal Round when they face Trinidad & Tobago on Wednesday, Sept. 10 at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill., just outside of Chicago. Kickoff for the match is at 7 p.m. CT and will be televised live on ESPN2 and Galavision, and can also be followed live on ussoccer.com’s MatchTracker.
Trinidad & Tobago was only able to secure one point in their match against Guatemala earlier this evening, putting the U.S. alone atop the group with six points. T&T is in second place with four points, while Guatemala is in third with one and Cuba sits in last place with zero points.
Bradley made only a few changes from the USA’s victory against Guatemala in their last qualifying match, replacing the suspended Steve Cherundolo with Frankie Hejduk and starting midfielder Maurice Edu in place of Pablo Mastroeni, who was not on the roster. Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan swapped starting positions for the Cuba match, as Dempsey started on the right wing and Donovan started at forward.
Cuba earned the first chance of the night after winning a corner kick in the first couple minutes. Jaine Colome served the ball from the left corner to the far post where Domingo came crashing in at the corner of the six-yard box, but his one-timer was well over the bar.
The U.S. appeared to get on the board in the seventh minute when Onyewu’s flick header inside the box rolled into the open net, but the mammoth defender was called for a foul after colliding with Cuban ‘keeper Odelin Molina during the challenge.
Landon Donovan and Dempsey both created chances inside the first 15 minutes, but both chances went wide left of goal. Donovan first teamed up with Hejduk on a give and go on the right side before striking low, while Dempsey went on an impressive individual effort that started from the center line and saw him blow past Marquez and hold off Luis Villegas to get into the box and take his attempt.
In the 30th minute, Edu served in a lofted ball from the left sideline to the back post where Brian Ching had created some space from his defender, but his first touch escaped him and rolled out over the endline, losing out on a good opportunity in front of the net.
On the other end, Cuba struggled to find room to work with as the U.S. defense was well organized and didn’t allow a single shot on goal in the first half. Onyewu and Carlos Bocanegra calmly won the numerous through balls up the middle, while Heath Pearce and Hejduk did well to handle the speed of the Cuban players.
The second half wasn’t even 60 seconds old when Cuba had their first dangerous look on goal when Roberto Linares struck a bouncing ball from 22 yards out which put Howard on his heels before dipping just over the bar.
Earning some confidence during the next 15 minutes, Cuba created one of their best chances of the night in the 57th minute with some nice combination play between Silvio Minoso and Alain Cervantes along the left flank. Starting near the midfield stripe, the two played a give and go down the left sideline with Cervantes eventually getting the ball inside the penalty area and unleashing a strike towards the near post, but Howard was able to securely snatch it without allowing a rebound.
With two-thirds of the match gone, the U.S. looked to double the score with a couple strikes from distance. Edu unleashed a swerving attempt from 28 yards out, but it veered wide right. Less than a minute later, Dempsey took a pass from Michael Bradley and unleashed from nearly the same spot, but his attempt was deflected and just missed the lower right corner.
DaMarcus Beasley had the best chance to give the U.S. some breathing room when he stayed with a through ball that Molina was only able to get a hand on near the top of the penalty area. Beasley ran it down on the endline and pulled it back past Molina, but with just a defender covering the goal his shot from inside the penalty area was high and wide.
As the U.S. tried to kill off the game, things got even more difficult as half the stadium lights went out. Despite the increased darkness, the game went on and Cuba pushed forward in hopes of what seemed would be an unlikely equalizer. The unlikely almost became reality off a free kick from the right sideline by Pedro Faife, but Howard came up with his spectacular save to save three points.
The U.S had one last opportunity in injury time when Sacha Kljestan found Ching inside the penalty area, but Molina made a sprawling save.
After Trinidad & Tobago, the U.S. will begin the second half of the Semifinal Round when they host Cuba at RFK Stadium on Oct. 11, before traveling to Trinidad on Oct 15 and then concluding the four-team group on Nov. 19 against Guatemala at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. The top two teams in the group will advance to the Final Round of qualifying.
-- U.S. Men’s National Team Game Report --
Match-up: USA vs. Cuba
Date: September 6, 2008
Competition: 2010 FIFA World Cup Qualifying – Semifinal Round
Venue: Estadio Pedro Marrero – Havana, Cuba
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET
Attendance: n /a
Weather: 75 degrees, rain
Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 1 0 1
Cuba 0 0 0
USA – Clint Dempsey (Brian Ching) 40th minute.
USA: 1-Tim Howard; 15-Heath Pearce, 3-Carlos Bocanegra-capt., 5-Oguchi Onyewu, 2-Frankie Hejduk; 17-DaMarcus Beasley, 12-Michael Bradley, 13-Maurice Edu, 8-Clint Dempsey (16-Sacha Kljestan, 77); 10-Landon Donovan, 11-Brian Ching
Subs: 18-Brad Guzan, 4-Ricardo Clark, 6-Marvell Wynne, 7-Eddie Lewis, 9-Eddie Johnson, 14-Danny Califf
Head Coach: Bob Bradley
CUB: 12-Odelin Molina; 2-Silvio Miñoso, 3-Yeniel Marquez, 5-Jorge Luis Clavelo-capt.; 11-Jensee Muñoz (9-Alain Cervantes, 46), 13-Carlos Domingo, 14-Jaine Colome (17-Pedro Faife, 52), 16-Reysander Fernandez; 18-Heviel Cordovez, 7-Luis Villegas, 10-Roberto Linares (15-Leonel Duarte, 67)
Subs: 1-Danis Quintero, 4-Yosvani Caballeros, 6-Reinier Alcantara, 8-Alianas Urgelles
Head Coach: Reinhold Fanz
Stats Summary: USA / CUB
Shots 6 / 8
Shots on Goal 2 / 3
Saves 3 / 1
Corner Kicks 3 / 3
Fouls 15 / 6
Offside 2 / 0
CUB – Luis Villegas (caution) 26th minute.
USA – Michael Bradley (caution) 37.
USA – Frankie Hejduk (caution) 50.
CUB – Jorge Luis Clavelo (caution) 71.
Referee: Joel Aguilar (SLV)
1st Asst.: William Torres (SLV)
2nd Asst.: Juan Francisco Zumba (SLV)
Fourth Official: Elmer Bonilla (SLV)
Sierra Mist Man of the Match: Oguchi Onyewu