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January 24, 2012

2 players missing from Cuba lineup


By Michael Lewis Editor

VANCOUVER — Two players were missing from Cuba’s starting XI and bench for its Group A match against Haiti in the CONCACAF women’s Olympic qualifying tournament on Monday night.

According to the official lineup handed out to the media prior to the game, forward Yezenia Gallardo, regarded as the team’s best player, and midfielder Yunelsis Rodriguez, were listed as “not present.”

Sportsnet, the official broadcaster of the event, reported that it had presumed the two players had defected.

CONCACAF acknowledged that the Cuban players were not with the delegation, although it had no further knowledge of their whereabouts, a confederation official said.

“Per policy, we can confirm that we’ve heard the same reports regarding the missing Cuban players,” CONCACAF spokesman Ben Spencer said in an email. “However, it is now a matter for the Canadian authorities and Cuban delegation, and we are not commenting further.”

Cuban officials refused to to talk to the media after the Caribbean side dropped a 3-0 decision to Haiti at BC Place in the first game of a doubleheader. Coach Luis Elejalde and other Cuban officials walked past reporters and got on the team bus. He was asked by a CONCACAF official through a team official to step out of the bus and talk about the game, but refused.

During a post-game interview after his 2-0 Group A loss to Canada on Saturday night, asked Elejalde if he feared some players might defect.

“No we’re not afraid of that,” he said. “They know why they came and they’ve worked hard. And they want to show off and a good image to the Cubans with these results.”

If the players did leave the team, it will be the first time women’s soccer players defected, following in the footsteps of several men’s players over the past decade.

It also would be the first time soccer players defected to a country other than the United States. Vancouver is in Canada.

At the 2002 CONCACAF Gold Cup, Ray Angel Martinez, who currently plays for the Rochester Lancers in the Major Indoor Soccer League, and Alberto Delgado decided to live in the United States.

Striker Maykel Galindo, who starred for Chivas in 2007-2008 and most recently played for FC Dallas in Major League Soccer, jumped ship during the 2005 Gold Cup.

Osvaldo Alonso, who performs for Seattle Sounders FC, and Lester Moore, left the National Team during the 2007 Gold Cup.

Cuba was hurt by defections during two separate events in the U.S. in 2008.

During the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament in Tampa, seven players left Cuba’s Under-23 team, including Yeniel Bermudez, Yordany Alvarez and Yendry Diaz.

Two days prior to the Caribbean country’s World Cup qualifier against the U.S. in Washington, D.C., two players — left the team’s hotel near the nation’s capital.

And during the 2011 Gold Cup, Yosniel Mesa decided to defect while the team was in Charlotte, N.C. for a game.

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