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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Mar 12, 2008

Seven members of Cuba U-23 team missing from hotel

TAMPA, Fla. -- Five members of the Cuban Under-23 national soccer team left their hotel Tuesday night and and then Wednesday night two more players left the team, raising the possibility they all may be trying to defect. The initial players were discovered to have left the team hotel hours after earning a 1-1 draw with the United States in the Pre-Olympic tournament. "Jose Manuel Miranda, Erlys Garcia Baro, Yenier Bermudez, Yordany Alvarez and Loanni Prieto left the hotel", Raul Gonzalez, coach of the Cuban national team, told ESPN reporter Fernando Palomo. On Wednesday night, Yendry Diaz told ESPN International on the phone that he and Eder Roldan had also left the team. The missing men had not yet reported to authorities. Zachary Mann, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection, said it's unlikely the agency will learn the men's whereabouts until they come forward. The players likely would be granted political protection under the United States' "wet foot, dry foot" policy that allows Cubans who reach U.S. soil to obtain asylum. Miranda started at goalkeeper and Bermudez captained the team on Tuesday night, when Cuba was able to hold on for a surprise draw in Group A action. Tampa police spokeswoman Andrea Davis said the agency had not received any missing persons reports from the team, and officers were not called to the team's hotel to investigate the disappearances. Together with Mexico, the U.S. starts the tournament as a favorite to win one of the two berths for the Beijing games in August. Freddy Adu scored for the U.S. after 14 minutes, but Roberto Linares equalized shortly before halftime. The Cubans then were able to hold on for a draw despite ending the match with 10 men, as Linares was sent off with a red card in the 82nd minute. "Cuba has plans to keep playing in this tournament and we don't want to forfeit our next two matches," said Gonzalez. If the seven players do not return, Cuba would be left with an 11-man squad, but only 10 would be available to play their next match, as Linares is automatically suspended one game for the red card. Cuba is scheduled to face Honduras on Thursday, at 5.30 p.m. ET at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. CONCACAF officials were to meet with the Cuban delegation later on Wednesday to discuss the situation and they could ask Cuba to forfeit the tournament. Gonzalez also confirmed that there was no security plan in place around the Cuban team to avoid defections. The team was staying at the Doubletree Hotel Tampa Westshore Airport.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.