The resilient Canadians took a huge first step in the third stage of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying with a 1-0 win Friday over Cuba. Team Canada did everything possible that they could come home with the maximum three points. They were in no mood to share the points.
Canada had to deal with scorching heat, unfamiliar humidity, terrible field conditions and down to ten men. None of those things were able to get in Canada’s way of a historic win in Cuba. The win was historic because Canadian wins are generally few and far between. Especially, in the third stage of qualifying when the stakes become high.
Coming into the game, Canada knew the game was going to be very critical in order to qualify for the World Cup. It’s only three points, however, these three points could be worth gold at the end of this qualifying phase.
For the majority of the game, Canada had the balk of the scoring chances and was close on a few occasions. Their closest chance came in the last minute of the first half when Canada found the crossbar.
Early in the second half, Cuba put the pressure on Canada. Their best chance of the game came in the 49th minute when the Cuba’s striker directed a shot just wide of the net. In the 54th minute Canada countered with hopes of breaking the deadlock. David Edgar’s cross was placed beautifully for Olivier Occean to head it in the back of the net to give Canada the 1-0 lead. It was just the thing that Canada needed to lift their sprits in a challenging environment.
After the goal, the game started to get aggressive. Cuba was getting frustrated and Canada was retaliating. In the 64th minute, Lars Hirschfeld’s deliberate handball outside the box was enough to be given a red card and a ticket to the showers. Canada was forced to play the remainder of the game with ten men. However, that didn’t limit Stephen Hart to substitute a normal player for a backup goalie. Milan Borjan filled in greatly for Canada as a replacement. He stopped all shots that were directed at him and was very cautious with handling the ball in his box.
The remainder of the game was very intense. Cuba was trying to muster up anything they could manage to get a tie. Ironically it was Canada still getting the better chances despite being down a man. Canada was being very conservative on the defensive end making sure they didn’t make any foolish turnovers.
When the final whistle blew there was a sigh of relief from Canadian fans from as far west as Tofino British Columbia too as east as Moncton New Brunswick. Canada had avoided a nightmare on the road in World Cup Qualifying and is now in the drivers seat in Group C.
Craig Forrest and Gerry Dobson, who called the game on Sportsnet, mentioned that Canada preferred a draw between Panama and Honduras later that day. However, I disagreed. Even though I understand his logic, I believe a Panama win benefited Canada more. Fortunately for Canada, Panama’s upset win over Honduras did happen. This gives Canada an amazing opportunity to put a dagger into Honduras World Cup plans. At the start of Qualifying, Honduras was emerging as the favorite to win Group C, now they will be fighting for their World Cup lives. Losing two straight Qualifying games is significantly damaging to any countries World Cup hopes. Canada should be delighted to do that honor when Honduras comes on Tuesday to BMO Field in Toronto.
Coverage beings Tuesday at 4:30pmPT/7:30pmET on all four Sportsnet channels.