TORONTO - The search continued Saturday for three players from the Cuban men's soccer team after they disappeared just before a World Cup qualifying match against Canada.
A spokesperson for FIFA — the governing body of international soccer — confirmed in an email that the players defected on Thursday, one day before the scheduled game in Toronto.
The FIFA official would not release any further details.
The defecting players left Cuban 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 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, ranked 61st in the world, defeated Cuba 3-0 in the match.
This isn't the first time Cuban soccer players have fled to the United States while in Canada.
Last January, two players with the women's team defected following a CONCACAF match against Canada in Vancouver.
— With files from Neil Davidson, Canadian Press