Iran, whom they will meet at the World Cup finals this summer, are not the only political foes the United States will play this year. Tomorrow in Oakland, California, their opening fixture in the Concacaf Gold Cup is against... Cuba.
The first football match between the two countries in nearly 50 years takes place in a climate of renewed diplomatic hostility. Last week, the Cuban president, Fidel Castro, kept up his anti-American rhetoric, likening the 35-year US embargo on the island to the Holocaust and referring to it as "genocide."
Officials from Concacaf, football's ruling body in the north American and Caribbean region, said they were relieved that the draw had given Cuba fixtures in Oakland, rather than Miami, a hotbed of anti-Castro sentiments among the Cuban-American population. Security will be tight, too, to deal with the risk that some members of the 18-man Cuban squad, plus coaches and officials, might attempt to defect.
It is only the fourth match between Cuba and the States. It is also the first on American soil plus the first since 1950 - a decade before the revolution.
The two-week Gold Cup also includes Jamaica, Mexico, Brazil, Honduras, Trinidad and Tobago, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Guatemala. The other venue apart from Oakland and Miami is the Los Angeles Coliseum, where the final will take place on 15 February.
The former national coach, Frank Arok, said this week that Australia should dump their current coach, Terry Venables, unless he is prepared to move to Australia.
David Hill, the chairman of Soccer Australia, the country's football association, has been trying to persuade the former England manager to extend his contract past the middle of this year. But Arok, who coached Australia in the 1986 World Cup qualifiers, said it was time to search for a replacement.
"We can no longer afford to have a visiting professor. If he wanted to come here for real it would be different," Arok said.
Venables has been linked with several high-profile club jobs since Australia failed to reach France 98. "Let him have his limelight and let us keep the money," Arok added.Reuse content