The Popularity Of Football In Cuba

There’s no denying that baseball is the number one sport in Cuba! However, football, or as Americans call it, soccer, is certainly growing in popularity and is widely considered the country’s second favorite sport. 

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In this post, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about football in Cuba, its popularity, and some famous Cuban footballers you may know. 

When was football first shown on TV in Cuba?

Soccer or football has been on the scene in Cuba for quite some time. In fact, the first recorded football match was shown in Cuba back in 1901. 

Since then, the sport has increased in popularity gradually over the years, particularly after Raúl Castro eased media restrictions. 

Because of this, international football was welcomed onto Cuban TV screens, starting with the World Cup in 2010

Naturally, football surged in popularity from this moment. It’s one of the most popular sports amongst Cuba’s younger generation. 

The Cuban national team and national league

The Asociación de Fútbol de Cuba oversees the national league and national team. 

The national league, the Campeonato Nacional, consists of 16 clubs. The most successful is FC Villa Clara, which is based in the city of Villa Clara. This club has won the title 14 times, most recently in 2016. 

Some of the other recent winners include Santiago de Cuba, FC Camagüey, which won the league for the first time in their history in 2015, and FC Ciego de Ávila.

The restrictions on professional sports in Cuba

There’s no denying that the progression of sports in Cuba has been halted due to the restrictions placed in the country. Since 1961, professional sports were forbidden by the country’s government. 

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However, in 2016, Maikel Reyes became the first Cuban permitted to sign a professional contract with a foreign team when he joined Cruz Azul Premier, a third-tier Mexican side. 

Until then, footballers had only played abroad by fleeing the country, meaning they didn’t have approval from the country’s football association. 

Has Cuba ever qualified for the World Cup?

Yes, the Cuban national team managed to qualify for the World Cup back in 1938. The tournament took place in France. After knocking Romania out, Cuba lost in the quarter-finals to Sweden, 0 – 8. 

However, Cuba doesn’t usually qualify for the World Cup these days. According to the current Fifa World Rankings, Cuba is ranked 168th in the world out of 211 teams. 

This doesn’t mean Cuba won’t qualify for any World Cups in the future, though. There are brighter days ahead for this country when it comes to the role it plays in international sports. 

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Most famous Cuban football stars

Cuba has produced some great sports stars over the years, but are there any famous Cuban footballers? Let’s take a look at some of the most popular:

Maikel Reyes 

There’s only one place to begin, and this is with Maikel Alejandro Reyes Azcuy, who became the first Cuban permitted to sign a contract with an overseas football club. After making 18 appearances and scoring five goals, the striker returned to Cuba, enjoying spells at Villa Clara and Pinar del Rio. today, he plays for the Honduran football club Club Deportivo Real Sociedad.

Osvaldo Alonso 

Osvaldo Alonso Moreno currently plays as a defensive midfielder in Major League Soccer (MLS) for Atlanta United FC. He was born in San Cristóbal in 1985. However, he defected from Cuba in 2007, and in 2012, he became a U.S. citizen. He previously played for Seattle Sounders FC, where he earned the nickname “Honey Badger” from fans because of his aggressive and fearless style of play. 

Sandy Sanchez

Sandy Sanchez is a goalkeeper who currently plays for Las Tunas. He has made 22 appearances for the national Cuban team, and he’s even scored one goal for the team. 

Jorge Luís Clavelo 

Jorge Luis Clavelo Tejeda was born in Santa Clara, Cuba. He plays as a defender for Bauger FC, which is a team in the professional football league in the Dominican Republic, the Liga Dominicana de Fútbol. He has played 56 times for Cuba, scoring two goals in the process. 

Daniel Luis Saez 

Born in Havana, Cuba, Daniel Eduardo Luis Sáez is a midfielder who plays for Rio Grande Valley FC, which is a professional American soccer team based in Edinburg, Texas. He has made 19 appearances for the Cuban national team, scoring one goal. He has also enjoyed several stints at other league clubs, including La Habana. 

Jorge Luis Corrales

Next, we have Jorge Luis Corrales Cordero, who is a defender who plays for FC Tulsa, a USL Championship club based in the United States. He has made 42 appearances for Cuba, scoring one goal in the process. He was born in Pinar del Rio and played for the local club there for six years. After which, he played for Fortuna SC, Miami FC, Fort Lauderdale Strikers, Tulsa Roughnecks, Chicago Fire, Montreal Impact, and most recently, FC Tulsa. 

Evier Cordovéz

Finally, we have former international Cuban forward, Heviel Cordovés González, who ended his playing career at Memphis 901 in 2019. He was born in Arroyo Naranjo, Havana, and he made nine appearances for Cuba, scoring one goal in the process. 

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What football can you watch on TV in Cuba?

In 2012 and 2013, respectively, Cuba acquired the rights to a number of Bundesliga and Premier Division games. A lot of European football games are shown on television now. 

The Cuban media has been reporting on football for quite some time now. Back in 1993, the first radio program was launched on football. At the time, people thought the creators were crazy, but it only took three years for football to be shown on television, so they weren’t considered crazy for long. 

When the reform process really got going in Cuba, football really started to spark. The Internet further developed, and all of this really helped football to get more attention. However, what really did football a lot of good is when the Spaniards won the World Cup in 2010. Spain is a kindred spirit of Cuba, so this formed the perfect foundation for football to really thrive in Cuba. 

If you really want to see Cuban football fans and their love for the sport, you should head to Havana and watch a Real Madrid match at the Hotel Habana Libre. The excitement is infectious, even if you’re not a Real Madrid fan. 

Football is only going to get more popular in Cuba

With international football reaching its 13th year in terms of being viewable in Cuba, it’s only natural that football will get more and more popular in this part of the world. We’re sure that there will be lots of big superstars to come from the country as well.