CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Maikel Reyes missed Cuba’s first CONCACAF Gold Cup pool play game due to visa problems. He made sure his country didn’t miss reaching the quarterfinals, though.
Reyes’ header in the 73rd minute resulted in a 1-0 win over Guatemala on Wednesday night, vaulting Cuba into a quarterfinal showdown with the United States on Saturday in Baltimore.
Cuba (1-2-0) advanced despite finishing with a minus-7 goal differential in pool play, the worst in Gold Cup history. The previous low among teams to advance out of pool play was Trinidad and Tobago in 2000 and Cuba in 2013, both with minus-2 scoring differentials.
“The goal was important for the team and for me it was extremely important,” Reyes said through an interpreter. “This is a match that will go down in the history of Cuban football.”
Cuba’s first goal of the tournament came when Alberto Gomez sent a crossing pass in the center of the box to Reyes, who headed the ball past Paulo Motta.
Reyes ripped off his jersey in celebration, drawing a yellow card.
“I was very happy because this represented that we were going to win this match,” Reyes said.
Reyes did not play in Cuba’s first pool play game, a 6-0 loss last week to Mexico due to visa issues. He returned for the second game against Trinidad and Tobago, although he didn’t score in the 2-0 loss.
“We were able to overcome those problems and this victory says it all,” Reyes said.
Reyes said the goal was important to him, but wasn’t the biggest of his career. He said scoring in the 20-and-under World Cup meant even more to him.
Cuba won despite missing four players.
Keiler Garcia and Arael Arguellez defected earlier in the tournament, and Dario Suarez and Aricheel Hernandez were no-shows for this game. Hernandez was among the players who had visa problems before the tournament, but Suarez’s whereabouts could not be confirmed after he was present for the first two games.
Cuba coach Raul Gonzalez had no comment on reports that Suarez had also defected.
“I won’t answer that question,” Gonzalez said through an interpreter. “I’m here to talk about (soccer), not politics.”
Reyes said the United States will be a difficult matchup for Cuba.
“We are just going to keep focused and keep a strong mentality,” Reyes said.
Said Gonzalez: “The USA is one of the favored teams in the tournament to win it and we have to prepare very well to play 90 minutes physically and mentally.”
Guatemala finished the tournament 0-2-1.
Cuba dominated the second half and had seven shots on goal to Guatemala’s five.
Cuba had a chance to score its first goal in the 52nd minute, but Ariel Martinez couldn’t put in a header from just outside the goal box after a short pass from Reyes.
The two teams battled to a scoreless tie in the first half with both registering four shots on goal.
Both teams had great opportunities to score.
Guatemala nearly got on the board in the 32nd minute when Ruben Morales sent a crossing pass that Denniss Lopez couldn’t quite run down. Lopez made a sliding effort on the right side of the net, but the ball sailed past him and out of play.
Cuba’s best opportunity to score in the first half came in the 39th minute when Reyes raced ahead of the field to track down a long pass. But he couldn’t control the ball about 12 yards from the net and a hustling Morales caught up and slid to knock the ball out of play.
A few minutes later, Guatemala’s Jorge Aparico sent a right-footed shot from just outside the box and just over the net.
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