Resilient Cuba looks to improve ahead of Gold Cup

Cuba's Ariel Martinez (white jersey), shown in 2014 Caribbean Cup action against Curacao, scored three goals in the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup.

MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica -- Cuba qualified for next year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup in a unique way.  Every game it played in the 2014 Caribbean Cup finals went down to the final minutes.

In their Group A matches, the Lions of the Caribbean conceded a 90th minute goal in a 1-1 draw with French Guiana, got past Curacao (3-2) on Orisbel Leiva's strike five minutes into stoppage time and played group winner Trinidad & Tobago to a scoreless tie.

In the third-place match, the Cubans dropped a 2-1 decision to Haiti as Ariel Martinez halved the deficit with a minute remaining in normal time.

Despite suffering its first defeat of the competition, the 2012 Caribbean Cup champion had earlier qualified for an eighth straight Gold Cup by taking second place in the group stage.

"I have to take my hat off to the players because they really tried," said head coach Walter Benitez.  "They didn't give up."

The 42-year-old is already thinking about the CONCACAF event, hoping to improve upon a quarterfinal appearance in the 2013 edition. 

"There are a number of things that we have seen to be worked on," Benitez said, noting that the attack needs to perform with more efficiency.  “The offensive players were not as good as they did not score [many] goals.  That’s something that we have to go back and work on.  Defense…we have to strengthen it and make it better going into the Gold Cup."

The Caribbean Cup was the first major tournament in more than a dozen years that the Cuba did not have the services of goalkeeper Odelin Molina, who retired from international play after the 2013 Gold Cup.  Diosvely Guerra, 25, took the veteran’s place, surrendering five goals in four Caribbean Cup games.