HAVANA._ In a country renowned for baseball parexcellence, a love of football, played on improvised pitches with home-made balls of a quality that reveals the dreams and realities of the children and adolescents who kick them about, is growing in parallel.
Balls made of materials at hand, though a far cry from the real McCoy, evoke in the players a sense that the games, played according to the rules and observed by spectators who failed to make the teams and seem unable to suppress their envy, are very real indeed.
The goalie, anchored in fantasy, represents an invisible boundary marked by this keeper selected by his junior contemporaries, lays his very soul on the line in efforts to halt airborne missiles – intended to bathe their masters in glory on impact -- of an opposing team.
It seems to be an undisputed truth that this passion was miraculously conceived in Cuba when Diego Armando Maradona began to weave his legend from a golden fleece of magical goals that brought his name to lips in every corner of the globe.
Maradona first came to Cuba in 1987 to receive the Prensa Latina 1986 Athlete of the Year Award and the until then somewhat distant hero witnessed the birth of a devotion to the “beautiful game” in this sister nation.
The recent launch of a Cuban TV sports channel marks yet another incentive for the onward march of the game, fed by ample live and recorded broadcasts of international championships and the fiery excitement of real-time clashes between clubs such as Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid or European and Latin American counterparts.
The names of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Radamel Falcao, Diego Alves, Kaka, Ronaldinho, Diego Forlan and Andres Iniesta, overseen by Pele and Maradona, are now an integral part of the fantasies and conversations of a new generation of Cubans who dream of attaining such glory and eternal fame.
Such are the aspirations of adolescents like Ernesto Diaz, who told the Prensa Latina news agency of his designs on rising to stardom in a world of football, where smartly trained and talented feet can open a direct route from earth to the heavens above.
Ever since the first match was hosted in 1911, Cuban football has had a history hallmarked by peaks and troughs with ambitions to date focused on endeavors to reach the second round in World Cup competition.
Although Díaz prefers football, he also loves baseball and his ideal scenario is one where both rank equally on the island in terms of opportunity and interest, resulting in Idols who make Cuba brightly shine across the planet.
Like the legendary 1.68m tall Roberto Carlos, who required only six or seven strides on any field before a left-footed arrow-like launching of the ball towards the opposing goal at a meteoric rate of 170 km per hour.Share on FB Share on TT