(Reuters) – The United States beat Cuba 2-0 on Friday in the first friendly between the two countries for 69 years in a match that will be remembered mainly for the poor quality of the Havana pitch.
The U.S. triumphed thanks to second-half goals by veteran Chris Wondolowski and Bayern Munich youngster Julian Green.
Nevertheless, it was an encouraging display by Cuba, who belied their lowly FIFA world ranking of 139 with an encouraging display in which they twice hit the post in the second half.
The U.S. played Cuba in World Cup qualifiers in 2008, and the two teams have since met in the Gold Cup, but this was the first friendly between them since 1947.
The match at the Estadio Pedro Marrero was played amid a backdrop of thawing political relations between the two countries as they work towards normalizing relations, but some questioned whether much was accomplished.
“I’d rather have the game on (artificial) turf and I hate turf,” ESPN analyst Taylor Twellman said, referring to the state of the pitch. “I just think if you’re going to schedule a friendly… you’ve got to get something out of the game.”
Chances were few and far between in the first half on an very bumpy pitch that more resembled a farmer’s plowed field than an international soccer playing surface, with a shaggy covering of grass that was pock-marked with deep divots.
The unpredictable bounce made ball-control difficult, contributing to a forgettable first half, but the match came to life after the break.
Cuba striker Maykel Reyes hit the post in the 58th minute, before the U.S. took the lead four minutes later when keeper Sandy Sanchez parried a shot into the path of Wondolowski, who lashed home from close range for his 11th international goal.
Chants of “USA, USA” rang out from the healthy contingent of American fans in the crowd.
Cuba almost drew level when midfielder Roberney Caballero hit the post with a header in the 65th, before Wondolowski set up the second U.S. goal six minutes later by cutting the ball back from the byline for Green to tap home from close range.
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Ken Ferris)