Scenes from Havana: USA's 2008 World Cup qualifier in Cuba
The Malecon is Havana's long oceanfront avenue where Habaneros pass the time on lazy weekends and weekday evenings. This group of seven college students spent the day getting soaked by the bracing salt-water waves crashing into the seawall. "When is the soccer game?" one of them asked. Saturday: 8 p.m. "I think we'll go."
Near the corner of the Malecon and Avenida G is a concrete jungle where you can find games of pickup soccer, basketball and even volleyball taking place on weekday afternoons. Soccer may only be the fourth- or fifth-most popular sport in Cuba, but its stature is slowly growing. Some of these guys had game, too.
Pre-Revolution cars from the U.S. dominate the streets of Havana, some in better condition than others.
Toward sunset we found some street-soccer scenes in Centro Habana, a shabby-but-vibrant part of town with narrow streets, crumbling buildings and locals who will talk your ear off.
Just a block down from where the U.S. soccer team will be staying on the Malecon is a scene that might distract the lads from the task at hand.
We never did figure out why the pickup soccer games were taking place on concrete instead of in the grassy park just a few blocks away, but these guys seemed satisfied with a harder field that more closely resembles that of Real Salt Lake's Rice-Eccles Stadium.
The best player on the concrete was an Asian guy in a blue North Carolina Tar Heels T-shirt. (Who knows? Maybe Anson Dorrance is trying to open up a new recruiting territory.) Note the building conditions: the reason Habaneros walk down the middle of the street instead of on the sidewalk, we're told, is that dozens of buildings fall down in Havana each year.
The U.S. Interests Section building (left), operated by the Swiss, is the closest thing in Havana to a U.S. embassy. When the U.S. started posting electronic sign-board messages to counter Castro's message a few years ago, the Cuban government responded by erecting 138 flags in front of the building to block the view of the sign-board messages. Immature on both sides? Yes. The black flags are a little creepy in person, too.
It wasn't hard to find a pickup soccer game in Havana. These guys had the most original makeshift goals we saw all day. In an unscientific poll using the number of knockoff jerseys we saw, FC Barcelona is the most popular soccer team in Cuba. (Not once did we see a Cuban national team jersey, which Maykel Galindo says aren't available for purchase here.)
A street baseball game in Old Havana.
Baseball, soccer and basketball aren't the only sports you'll find being played on the streets of Havana. There are also volleyball games like this one.
An old hulk found a bad spot to break down–in the middle of a Havana intersection.
Our pedicab driver started getting nervous and mumbling about "la policia" before backing us onto a street without cops. We kept asking the guy why he was anxious about the police, but he never explained.
Old John Lennon albums are available alongside the songs of Che Guevara at this store in Havana.
Two barefoot kids go one-on-one with a futbol.
Trying out the southpaw jump-serve.
The Cuban national soccer team enters Estadio Pedro Marrero for their session with the international media on Wednesday.
Cuba's German coach, Reinhold Fanz, meets with the media on Wednesday.
23-year-old Roberto Linares, the high-scoring forward on Cuba's national team, sat down with SI.com for an interview. Linares scored Cuba's goal in its 1-1 tie with the U.S. during the Olympic qualifying tournament last March. Seven of his teammates on that team ended up defecting to the U.S., but Linares stayed in Cuba.
Lacking air-conditioning in most buildings, Habaneros take to the streets in the late afternoon and early evening in Old Havana.
Games of dominoes are taking place everywhere in Old Havana.
One of the first things the U.S. soccer team saw on the road leaving the Havana airport was a giant billboard featuring President George W. Bush next to Adolf Hitler, the late Cuban-exile leader Jorge Mas Canosa and Orlando Bosch. "Full De Asesinos" has a double meaning: "Ases" means "Aces" (note the playing card theme, an echo of the U.S.-produced playing cards showing ex-Iraqi leaders), while "Asesinos" means "Murderers."
The Rafael Trejo Gymnasium is an open-air boxing gym in Old Havana near the train station that has produced some of Cuba's top–and future–boxers over the years.
SI's Simon Bruty attended a training session at the Rafael Trejo Gymnasium with young boxers aged 7 to 14 led by instructor Hector Vinent, the light-welterweight gold medalist from the 1992 and '96 Olympic Games.
Youngsters exchange jabs at the Rafael Trejo Gymnasium in Old Havana.
More sparring sessions at the Rafael Trejo Gymnasium in Old Havana.
Young boxers wait for their turn at the Rafael Trejo Gymnasium.