Cuban Officials Stunned by Desertions

Cuban sports officials were stunned Thursday by the desertions of up to seven soccer players in Florida. Still, the under-23 team will play on.

The Cuban team will play Honduras on Thursday night in Tampa, Fla. It's Cuba's second game in a qualifying tournament for the Beijing Olympics, sponsored by the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football, or CONCACAF.

The Cuban delegation notified CONCACAF on Thursday that the team will continue to participate, CONCACAF general secretary Chuck Blazer said in a statement.

The players, who had not yet reported to authorities, went missing after Cuba tied the United States 1-1 Tuesday.

"CONCACAF has been notified by the head of the Cuban delegation that several players have left the team," Blazer said. "CONCACAF has no information on the location of the players or the circumstances surrounding their separation from the delegation."

Cuban sports officials and CONCACAF have not identified the missing players. Missing from Wednesday's practice were: Jose Manuel Miranda, 21; Erlys Garcia Baro, Yenier Bermudez, Yordany Alvarez and Loanni Prieto, all 22.

"We feel really badly," Antonio Garces of the Cuban Soccer Association told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

The five men are expected to be in Miami by this weekend, said Marcos Ommati, a spokesman with professional soccer team Miami FC.

He said Wednesday that he had not spoken with the players and did not know their whereabouts, but said he had spoken with someone who told him to expect the players.

Player Yendry Diaz told ESPN in an interview that he and forward Eder Roldan also had left the team, bringing the total to seven.

Under the United States' "wet foot, dry foot" policy, Cubans who reach U.S. soil are allowed to remain in the country and apply for U.S. residency after one year.

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