The New York Cosmos romped to a 4-1 win over Cuba in a landmark exhibition match here Tuesday, the first appearance by a professional American sports team in the Communist-ruled island for 16 years.
A tropical downpour that soaked the dilapidated Pedro Marrero Stadium for hours before kick-off could not dampen the spirits of several thousand fans who had paid the equivalent of 25 US cents a ticket to attend.
The footballing milestone is seen as the first step of a new era in sporting ties between the United States and Cuba, whose governments are seeking to bury five decades of bitter Cold War antagonism following a historic rapprochement.
Cuban fans began streaming into the ground hours before kick-off despite the foul weather, but roared their delight when Brazil legend Pele appeared on a balcony overlooking the ground before kick-off.
The 74-year-old icon, who finished his career at the Cosmos during the club’s 1970s heyday in the North American Soccer League, punched the air and smiled as fans chanted his name.
The Cosmos, who included former Spain and Real Madrid star Raul in their starting line-up, emerged alongside the Cubans to cheers before the teams lined up for national anthems.
A stirring rendition of Cuba’s national anthem, La Bayamesa, was followed by warm applause for the Stars and Stripes, underscoring a marked absence of hostility amongst the home support.
But any hopes of a famous win for the Cubans, ranked 109th in the world, were effectively snuffed out in the opening 45 minutes as the New York side punished slack defending to race into a 4-0 half-time lead.
Zimbabwe-born forward Lucky Mkosana opened the scoring on eight minutes, rifling in a low shot from just inside the penalty box that gave Cuban goalkeeper Sandy Sanchez no chance.
Uruguayan forward Sebastian Guenzatti drilled in a second on 32 minutes to double the visitors lead before Chirishian Hagop made it 3-0 moments later, bundling home a low cross.
Mkosana bagged his second three minutes before half-time, volleying home a fine cross from Hunter Freeman.
Cuba earned the biggest cheer of the match early in the second half when Andy Vaquero cut in from the left and slotted past Cosmos goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer. – Agence France-Presse