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Canada, Cuba, What to Expect, Besides Misery

The Canadian men's national team plays Cuba on Friday in a must-win that's also a really-they-should-damned-well-win.

Canadian Soccer Association

Your humble correspondent will be in-computer-cado for the rest of the week as he is off to Vancouver Island to do irresponsible things. This means that, obviously, I won't be able to blog. Oh how will you be able to survive?

This life will be especially difficult as Canada's men's national team is playing Cuba on Friday at 4:30 PM Pacific Daylight Time, on what in light of recent sponsorship announcements[1] I might have to start calling "Bell Pitch at BMO Field". The inimitable Jono goes over Canada's difficult path to the hex in an excellent post[2] on the coming attraction; suffice to say that Canada essentially needs a win, and would be very happy if it was a big one.

As Jono so rightly points out, a big win is entirely unlikely. Canada just doesn't get the big ones apart from a single game against possibly the worst opponent Canada has ever faced (St. Lucia, who were not VMSL Premier quality). Cuba's got a few big losses, mostly in the 2011 Gold Cup, and Canada fans will look with hope upon El Salvador 6, Cuba 1 on June 12[3]. Canada would be looking for a win by 3 or 4 goals to make any meaningful difference, and the last time they pulled that off against a non-minnow was a 3-0 Gold Cup win over Guatemala in 2009[4]. It's tempting to include Cuba in with the minnows but, sadly, they are a cut above the likes of St. Kitts and Nevis.

Not that I think the loss of Dwayne De Rosario is likely to hurt Canada's offense, as thoroughly established earlier in this space[5]. Iain Hume will be fine. It's just historically unlikely that Canada has the firepower to beat Cuba; the Cubans will be bunkering, looking for the moral victory of getting a point away from home in a similar manner to Puerto Rico at BMO Field last round where el Huracán Azul actually celebrated a 0-0 draw that formally eliminated them from the World Cup.

So, is Canada unlikely to beat Cuba? Cuba's really bad, and while Canada's winning margin in Havana was just one the cow pasture of a pitch was an obstacle for skilled players. As Canada fans we are used to expecting the worst and seldom being disappointed, but there's just no damned way the Canadians should take anything less than a clear, if not necessarily convincing, win. Anything less would be a catastrophe, and any Canadian team incapable of a home win against Cuba with everything on the line wouldn't deserve a spot in the hex anyhow. Cuba may be holding players back from fear of defection (two Cuban women defected during CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying in Vancouver earlier this year[6] and the men still haven't announced an official roster), while Canada should handily outgun even a full Cuban team. The match in Cuba, there was no doubt Canada generated almost all qualify chances apart from when Lars Hirschfeld was going a-wandering. Honduras demolished Cuba twice and could easily have won by a touchdown on aggregate if the bounces had gone their way.

When (I say when) Stephen Hart and company knock off Cuba they'll have a home record this round of two wins, no losses, and one draw: their best in a serious round of qualification since 1996, where they hammered a group that should sound almost familiar (El Salvador, Panama, and Cuba; Cuba played all their games away). Naturally they got to the hex that year, and while they were humiliated there most Canada fans would happily accept a repeat performance. Back when this group was drawn, the narrative was unanimous: "do the job at home, get one big result away."

The job at home is nearly done. As for the away, Tuesday Canada plays in Honduras at San Pedro Sula in what will almost certainly be a must-get-a-point match. That will be The Big Result, if it comes, and will also involve Canada dragging themselves off the carpet after playing one of the worst games in their recent history in Panama.

Cuba comes first, of course, and a loss to them makes the argument almost pointless. But it's impossible not to look past them. San Pedro Sula awaits.

[1] — "Canada Soccer Welcomes Bell Canada as Premier Partner.", October 10, 2012. Accessed October 10, 2012.

[2] — Jono. "Canada all-time vs. Cuba." Out of Touch, October 10, 2012. Accessed October 10, 2012.

[3] — "Cuba: Fixtures and Results." Accessed October 10, 2012.

[4] — "Men's Fixtures." Accessed October 10, 2012.

[5] — Massey, Benjamin. "An Essay on Dwayne De Rosario's Injury for Canada." Eighty Six Forever, September 13, 2012. Accessed October 10, 2012.

[6] — Woo, Andrea. "Cuban athletes flee to U.S. after Vancouver soccer game." Vancouver Sun, January 26, 2012. Accessed October 10, 2012.