With the United States preparing for a historic match against Cuba in Havana on Friday, we took a moment to speak with Brazilian photojournalist Gabriel Uchida. In 2014, he travelled to Cuba and "wasn't tough enough to drink Cuban rum the whole day for a week, so [he] decided to spend two days looking for football in the island."
The resulting images paint a picture of a beautiful, vibrant football culture that is still finding its footing in the world's game.
"I’m not a communist, but I love Cuba. It’s my favorite place on Earth, really. I’ve been to Berlin and New York City, but Havana is the number one — it’s top. I’ve been there twice, both times I’ve made works about football.”
“They love football, it’s crazy. They have professional football, but the local media doesn’t really cover that. Companies cannot sponsor the clubs so they’re very poor, very low quality football and players. The best football player, he works as a dentist or something like that — they have to have other jobs."
"They don’t care about the local league. I’ve been to a few football matches there, and usually there’s like less than 100 people in the stands. But if you turn on the TV on the street, people are drawn to watch it. It’s a crazy atmosphere."
"Despite the local media that doesn’t care about local football, they love the Champions League. Every Cuban knows the Champions League. They love it. Once, it was Barca versus Real Madrid and the whole of Havana was watching the match, it was crazy.
"I was with my friends, it was during the afternoon - just a regular day at 3pm - and everyone was just drinking rum and watching the match. You could see lots of Barcelona and Messi and Real Madrid flags all over the city, just all over."
"The communist party failed at creating new idols and new models for the youth. Now, these young people are seeing their idols not in Fidel or the old leaders but with football players from European clubs because that’s what they see on TV. Everbody knows Messi, Neymar and Ronaldo — they want to play like them."
"Football is a sport you can play anywhere, with anybody. It’s a very simple game. I think that’s one of the reasons why they like it. Somehow, for some reason, soccer is in our blood here in Latin America."