July 4 – Cuba became the first covid and visa casualty of the return to competitive international football after the country failed to get to Fort Lauderdale in Florida for their 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup Preliminary Round (Prelims) qualifier for a spot in the group stages that start July 10.
Cuba were at a training base in Nicaragua and had planned to fly in from there, believing that obtaining visas for US entry would be easier. Some of the Cubans play their club football in the US and could have travelled, but not all the team were deemed eligible.
With Concacaf working behind the scenes to try and secure entry to the US – because of the political situation with Cuba visas obtaining visas have never been straightforward – the match was kept open until just five hours before kick off when Concacaf were left with no alternative but to call off the fixture and award the qualification tie to French Guiana.
By that stage even if Cuba had arrived there would not have been time for Covid PCR tests to have been completed before kick off. Taking any risk that players could have returned a positive test was not an option.
It was a blow to Concacaf who have introduced the preliminary knock out rounds into the Gold Cup proper for the first time. Of all the tournaments taking place arounds the world this summer (Euros, Copa America, Asian World Cup Qualifiers and Tokyo Olympics), Cuba are the only team that have failed to make it to the start line.
In a statement Concacaf said: “Unfortunately, due to Covid-19 related travel and visa challenges, and the required Covid-19 testing regime, their match tonight against French Guiana will not take place.
“Given the current public health situation and the ongoing need for protocols to be adhered to, the health and safety of the participating teams cannot be compromised.”
French Guiana now go through to the second round of the Prelims and will face Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday, July 6, in a play-off for a place in Group A. The winners first game in that group will be against the mighty Mexico in Arlington, Texas.
For Cuba it is a significant blow for their national team who suffered visa and organisational issues at the 2019 Gold Cup, as well as a number of team member defections once they arrived in the US.
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