Football: USA beat Cuba 2-0 in historic friendly match in Havana

A view of the scoreboard after the United States defeated Cuba 2-0 during a friendly match at the Estadio Pedro Marrero on Oct 7, 2016.
A view of the scoreboard after the United States defeated Cuba 2-0 during a friendly match at the Estadio Pedro Marrero on Oct 7, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

Havana (AFP) - The United States warmed up for their looming World Cup qualifying clash with Mexico with a 2-0 friendly victory over Cuba on Friday, only the third time in history the two nations have met on Cuban soil.

Chris Wondolowski in the 62nd minute and Julian Green in the 71st scored for the United States.

The match at the Estadio Pedro Marrero was the latest byproduct of the thaw in relations between the United States and Cuba, after more than half a century of bitter Cold War enmity.

It is the first time the United States have played in Cuba since their World Cup qualifying clash in Havana in 2008, when the Americans won 1-0 courtesy of a Clint Dempsey goal.

Aside from that, the only other meeting between the teams in Cuba came in 1947, when the hosts won 5-2.

"Today we made history," said forward Jozy Altidore. "Thanks to Cuba for the hospitality and here's to continuing to improve our relations in the future."

Yet while Friday's game came loaded with political symbolism, for USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann the match was key preparation for World Cup qualifiers.

After an hour of frustration, San Jose Earthquakes striker Wondolowski, a halftime substitute, broke the scoreless deadlock, slamming in a rebound from a Green attempt saved by Cuban goalkeeper Sandy Sanchez.

Less than 10 minutes later, it was Wondolowski's low cross across the Cuban goal mouth that Bayern Munich winger Green - recalled for the first time since May - seized to slot home.

The spirited Cubans had given the visitors a scare with two shots off the post before the United States took control in the second half.

Goalkeeper Ethan Horvath, making his US debut, made a save on Roberney Caballero's shot in the 28th minute to keep the game scoreless, and minutes later thwarted an attempt by Aricheel Hernandez.

The US got a fright of another kind in the 80th minute, when Steve Birnbaum was kicked in the head by a leaping Cuban player. He was treated on the field and was able to walk off under his own steam.

Klinsmann's men open their Concacaf "Hexagonal" World Cup qualifying competition with a home match against Mexico in Columbus, Ohio, on November 11 before facing 2014 World Cup quarter-finalists Costa Rica in San Jose four days later.

They'll play another friendly on Tuesday against New Zealand in Washington.