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WORLD CUP QUALIFYING

U.S. takes lead in group after soggy win in Cuba

September 07, 2008|From the Associated Press

Clint Dempsey scored in the first half and the United States held on to beat Cuba, 1-0, in a sloppy and low-energy World Cup qualifier at Havana on Saturday night, the first U.S. game on the island since 1947.

Half of the lights at rain-soaked Pedro Marrero Stadium went out in the 86th minute, causing a brief delay before the final minutes, when Cuba nearly tied it after a free kick.

But the U.S. held on in the gloom to win its third straight road qualifier and take the lead in Group 1 of the CONCACAF semifinals.

"They did a pretty good job of making it hard on us," Landon Donovan said. "They never really took the chances to get back in the game so it kind of limited itself to trying to get the second goal if we could, but we felt that they weren't going to have real chances."

In the 39th minute, Oguchi Onyewu sent a pass into the box from midfield and Dempsey jumped up with two Cuban defenders, one of whom mistakenly headed the ball straight to Brian Ching.

Ching held off a defender and dropped the ball to Dempsey, who was all but unmarked when he netted from 12 yards out.

A thunderstorm soaked the field two hours before game time, making for swampy field conditions. Footing and ball control were difficult for both teams.

Cuba began the second half with a flurry of chances but failed to put a shot on goal until the 56th minute, when Pedro Silvio fed substitute Aliani Cervantes on the left side for an unmarked hard shot that U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard had to dive to stop.

The U.S. controlled the ball well after that, slowing down the tempo and keeping the Cubans off-balance on offense just enough to make their lead last.

In the 88th minute, Howard had to make a diving save to his left when a free kick got loose and squirted toward the net.

The U.S. embargo meant there were almost no Americans in the stands, though a few officials from the U.S. Interests Section, which Washington maintains in Havana instead of an embassy, organized a special trip to the game.

The U.S. now has six points in Group 1 and faces Trinidad and Tobago, which has four, on Wednesday near Chicago.

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In selected other World Cup qualifiers:

France was upset by Austria, 3-1, at Vienna.

England needed two second-half goals from substitute Joe Cole to pick up an uninspiring 2-0 victory over Andorra at Barcelona, Spain. Jeers rang out at Olympic Stadium as England's players headed to the locker room at halftime.

Paraguay took advantage of a troubled defensive outing by Argentina to earn a 1-1 draw at Buenos Aires and continue to lead South American qualifying for the World Cup.

Antonio Di Natale scored two goals to give world champion Italy a 2-1 win over Cyprus at Larnaca, Cyprus.

Lithuania upset Romania, 3-0, after goals from Marius Stankevicius, Saulius Mikolinius and Mindaugas Kalonas at Cluj, Romania.

Bulgaria salvaged a 2-2 draw against Montenegro after substitute Blagoi Georgiev scored with an injury-time free kick at Podgorica, Montenegro.

Greece beat Luxembourg, 3-0, at Luxembourg.

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