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FIFA confirms 3 Cubans defected before qualifier

TORONTO -- The search continued for three Cuba players on Saturday after they disappeared just before a World Cup qualifying match against Canada.

FIFA confirmed in an email to Canadian Press that the players defected on Thursday, one day before the game in Toronto.

The FIFA official would not release any further details.

The defecting players left Cuba coach Alexander Gonzalez with only 11 players on his team for the match. He said the missing fourth player fell ill and wasn't able to make it to the game.

A spokesman for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection would not confirm reports that the players tried to cross into the United States at the Niagara Falls border point on Thursday.

Tom Rusert cited privacy concerns as a reason why he couldn't give out any information. He added that no arrests were made in relation to this case.

On Friday, Gonzalez lamented the departures of the missing players.

“As with any Cuban sport team that travels around the world, they're all chasing the American dream,” he said. “And it's difficult to try to keep the team together ... Obviously it's a difficult situation for the team and it's tough for me to talk about it.”

Canada beat Cuba 3-0 in the match.

Last January, two players with the Cuba women's team fled to the U.S. following a match against Canada in Vancouver.

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