By Dylan Butler
ATLANTA – Every time Odelin Molina steps on the field, the Cuba goalkeeper knows it could be for the last time.
He faced that possibility Tuesday night in the final game of Group C, but the Cubans rallied for a dramatic 4-0 victory over Belize to book its spot into the knockout stage for only the second time ever.
Now Cuba faces favorite Panama in the Georgia Dome Saturday afternoon. A loss for the Lions of the Caribbean means the end of a storied career. The 38-year-old said he is set to retire following the tournament.
“It will be very sad for me,” Molina said. “I know personally I gave it my all, as well as my teammates on the field.”
Cuba previously reached the Gold Cup quarterfinals in 2003, losing to the United States. In net that day? Molina, of course.
“It’s hard,” Molina added. “It hurts me, retiring. It’s a very hard time for me.”
Molina has had a terrific 18-year career with the Cuban national team, earning 119 caps. He’s been a leader for the team, on and off the field.
“I feel very confident to have him on the backline with us,” veteran defender Jorge Luis Clavelo said. “We feel that he gives us a security that’s always there. In terms of his impending retirement, it’s obviously very sad, but it’s something we welcome. He’s a key to Cuban soccer going forward.”
Molina’s influence has also been felt by players new to the national team, like forward Jose Ciprian Alfonso, who has earned his first three caps at the Gold Cup.
“He’s a great player, a great athlete, an athlete who has supported us on the playing pitch,” Ciprian said. “He’s helped everybody individually.”
Although his playing days are coming to an end, Molina still wants to stay involved with the game in Cuba, hoping to coach the national side at some point. He’s already served as a mentor to Cuban goalkeepers Julio Ramos and Diosvelis Alejandro, both 23 years of age.
“I feel he’s very strong,” Cuban coach Walter Benitez said. “He’s given us an enormous amount of confidence backing us up. In terms of his pending retirement, I feel this could be his last tournament, but even if comes in as a manager, or an assistant, he would be able to help us tremendously. We have two young keepers so I think he would be a tremendous help to the team.”
As for a legacy, Molina said it is his son, Jeremy, but the 12-year-old would rather be a striker than a goalkeeper.
“I’m going to motivate him, tell him how to attack goalkeepers,” Molina said. “That’s how I will inspire him.”
Molina’s inspiration has already been felt by many involved with Cuban soccer.