HAVANA (Reuters) - Clint Dempsey scored a first-half goal to earn the United States a gritty 1-0 win over Cuba on Saturday in a World Cup qualifier that marked the American team’s first trip to the Caribbean island in 61 years.
Dempsey scored in the 39th minute, picking up a loose ball in front of the net and firing it past goalkeeper Odelin Molina on a rain-soaked pitch.
The U.S. have a 2-0 win-loss record in the CONCACAF qualifying round and Cuba dropped to 0-2. The Americans are ranked 28th in the world and Cuba 92nd.
The match was played in front of a raucous pro-Cuba crowd of about 8,000 in rickety Pedro Marrero Stadium in the Cuban capital.
Even though Cuba is just 90 miles (144km) from the United States, only a handful of American fans attended.
The 46-year-old U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, imposed after Fidel Castro took power in a 1959 revolution and allied the island with the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War, makes it difficult for Americans to travel to the country.
But for 90 minutes, relations centered on a round ball kicked about on a green field.
After the match, the black-clad U.S. team came out on to the pitch and applauded the Cuban fans in what coach Bob Bradley said was a spontaneous gesture of appreciation.
“We’ve been treated very well here and people have been very friendly,” he said. “It’s been an excellent trip.”
The U.S. were always strong favorites but Bradley said Cubans played hard because the match was important to their country.
“It meant a lot to them and as a result it was tight, difficult game,” he said.
Cuban coach Reinhold Franz was pleased with the progress of his team in a sport which is far less important than baseball in the country.
“I think we are on good path,” he said. “Losing 1-0 to the United States is not bad.”
Reporting by Jeff Franks; Editing by Ed Osmond