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RED BULLS SIGN JUNINHO

The New York Red Bulls announced Monday that the club signed former Brazilian World Cup star Juninho for his Brazilian club Vasco da Gama. Juninho previously played for Qatari club Al-Gharafa, where he won player of the year honor as the team won the league title.

He was also a member of French League One club Olympique Lyonnais from 2001-2009, where he led the team to seven consecutive league titles. The Brazilian played for Houllier from 2005-07 at the club and won the League One Player of the Year under Houllier. Juninho, member of Brazil’s 2006 World Cup squad, played 47 times for Brazil and scored seven goals.

“Juninho is a world class player who our Global Sporting Director, Gerard Houllier, and I have known and admired for many years,” said Red Bulls Sporting Director Andy Roxburgh. “Aside from being a top dead ball specialist and a tremendous talent, Juninho is a fantastic professional both on and off the field. He is in great physical shape and we think he can make a positive impact for us in 2013.”

Cuba wins first Caribbean title

On Sunday at the Antigua Recreation Ground, the Caribbean crowned a new champion when Cuba defeated Trinidad and Tobago, 1-0, to win its first Caribbean Cup title. The Cup had eluded Cuba, the first Caribbean team to play in a World Cup finals (1938), the past 23 years. The game was a rematch of the 1999 Cup final when host Trinidad and Tobago won, 2-1.

Cuba’s win revealed the much improved standard of play in the Caribbean game and the parity that has developed in recent years. Gone are the days when the Caribbean Cup tournament was a shoo-in for top dogs Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica. There was a time when either of those teams would stroll through the tournament and take home the Cup. The two countries have won 13 of the 18 Caribbean Cup tournaments played in the past 23 years; Trinidad and Tobago is an eight-time Caribbean champion, with its last title won in 2001, while Jamaica has copped five titles, three in the past four years, its last in 2011.

The improved standard among the other Caribbean teams is reflected in the upsets that we saw in Antigua and Barbuda the past week. Defending champion Jamaica, still in the hunt for a second World Cup finals appearance after its historic first in 1998, finished last in Group B. The Reggae Boyz, - the only Caribbean team in the CONCACAF final qualifying round for the 2014 World Cup, with games coming up in February - suffered two defeats, to French Guyana (2-1) and Cuba (1-0), and played to a goalless draw with Martinique on the way to a fast exit. Jamaica scored one goal in the three group matches.

Host Antigua and Barbuda, which made history recently with an impressive run in the 2014 World Cup qualifying in CONCACAF when it reached the semi-final round, was knocked out of the tournament early. The Wadadli Boys managed only a win, against Trinidad and Tobago (2-0), against two defeats, to Dominican Republic (2-1) and Haiti (1-0). Both Jamaica and Antigua and Barbuda, which had high hopes to play in the prestigious CONCACAF Gold Cup next summer in the U.S. will watch from the stands. The re-emergence of French Guyana was a welcomed story as this team reached the final stage after a long absence from the tournament.

The final was a very testy game. Both teams started cautiously with each getting their chances, although few, at scoring. The first half ended goalless, which reflected the tense and cautious nature of the game. In the second half, Cuba took the initiative and it seemed to pay off when speedy forward Marcel Hernandez got behind the Trinidad and Tobago defense and was in one-on-one versus the Trinidad Soca Warriors goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams, who had no choice but to foul the Cuban. The Soca Warriors were given a life-line in the 61st minute when Cuban midfielder Jaime Valencia’s resulting kick from the penalty spot sailed over the crossbar.

The missed penalty gave Trinidad and Tobago new life and the Soca Warriors dominated the game as the final whistle in regulation drew close. The Soca Warriors owned the momentum going into the two 15-minute overtime periods. The first period was played evenly, but concentration took its toll after seven minutes into the second overtime period, when Hernandez scored an unlikely goal. The Cuban forward hit a shot from 40 yards, which Williams seem to gather, but the ball slipped through the Trinidad and Tobago captain’s hands and rested in the back of the goal. Cuban celebrations started and continued through the final eight minutes of the contest. The Lions of the Caribbean became the 2012 Caribbean Cup holders.

Seon Power of Trinidad and Tobago was singled out for his stalwart defensive work throughout the tournament, while Cuban goalkeeper Odelin Molino was mentioned for his consistent efforts in the nets. Cuba took home the hefty US$100,000 champion prize, while Trinidad and Tobago got US$ 75,000.

Martinique and Haiti, both former Caribbean champions, missed out on winning the Caribbean Cup and had to settle for participating in the third-place game. Both, though, qualified for next July’s Gold Cup in the U. S., along with Cuba and Trinidad and Tobago. Haiti beat Martinique, 1-0, for the third place trophy in the all-French contest. In the semi-finals, Cuba knocked off Haiti, 1-0; Trinidad and Tobago topped Martinique, 5-4, in a penalty kick shootout.

Updated 4:47 pm, December 18, 2012:
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