Canada beats Cuba 3-0, plays Honduras next

Olivier Occean of Canada reacts to a play beside him is Odelin Molina, goalie for Cuba during the...

Olivier Occean of Canada reacts to a play beside him is Odelin Molina, goalie for Cuba during the World Cup soccer qualifier held at BMO field on Friday Oct 12, 2012. (ERNEST DOROSZUK/QMI Agency)

KURTIS LARSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:05 AM ET

TORONTO - Canada has been complaining — and rightly so — for years that the deck is constantly stacked against it when it plays away within the region.

From phantom calls to 4 a.m. parties outside its Panama City hotel, the Reds have been waiting to catch a break.

On Friday, they got just that when it was discovered Cuba had 11 eligible players for the match after a handful were reported to have defected following the team’s arrival on Wednesday.

“I’ve never been in (this situation),” Canadian head coach Stephen Hart said of his opponents, whose bench was completely empty. “It wasn’t my doing. We found out about it and didn’t tell the players anything.

“I would have liked to have scored six,” Hart said of beating what would many would call a reserve side 3-0, giving the Canadians a good shot at advancing in Honduras three days from now.

Cuba started just two players from the first 11 they put out in June, when Canada topped the islanders 1-0 in Havana.

With Canada, Honduras and Panama in a race to claim two available spots in CONCACAF’s final round, from which three nations qualify for the World Cup, a first-half goal from Tosaint Ricketts was enough to move Canada to 10 points Friday night.

Second-half goals from Will Johnson and David Edgar provided the Reds with some breathing room, but it should have been much worse.

On four minutes, Atiba Hutchinson turned a Cuban defender along the sideline before whipping in a cross that provided both Simeon Jackson and Olivier Occean with close-range looks they failed to convert.

Four minutes later, it was Ricketts to a wide-open Jackson on the left side of the penalty area, but the Norwich City attacker struck his left-footed laser right at Cuban ’keeper Odelin Molina.

Following Ricketts’ opener a quarter-hour in, Canada became increasingly frustrated as it watched clear-cut chances go begging every five minutes.

In the 22nd minute, playing in place of an injured Dwayne De Rosario on the left side of midfield, Jackson provided a moment of brilliance after receiving a recycled ball on the left and weaving between four Cuban defenders before lacing yet another shot right at Molina.

The highlight reel was extended a minute later when Occean and Julian de Guzman completed a one-two inside Cuba’s box before Occean missed an open look at the near post.

Needing goals in order to close the goal differential gap that has opened between Honduras and Panama, with the 17,712 in attendance becoming increasingly restless, Cuba threatened to equalize in the 36th minute when a ball played over the top beat Canada’s entire back four. Had Yudel Lahera’s first touch not have been so poor the visitors might have found an equalizer.

Outshooting Cuba 20-something-to-1, an astronomical number in the sport, Canada had multiple chances before the break to add another.

With his back to goal, Hutchinson received a cross in the 44th minute before turning a striking a half-volley that Molina pushed over the frame. Occean followed that up by heading down a Johnson corner directly at the Cuban ’keeper, who kept the score respectable through the first 45 minutes.

Despite holding an overwhelming amount of possession coming out of the half, the visitors threatened again just before the hour mark when after completing a give-go 30 metres from Canada’s Lars Hirschfeld, Carlos Francisco’s attempt from distance sailed inches wide of the back stick.

Just when most thought the match couldn’t get any more ridiculous, Cuba went down to 10 men in the 71st minute when Roberto Linares kicked Canadian defender Andre Hainault away from the play.

Canada capitalized a minute later when Edgar capped off a streaking run with a perfectly weighted cross that Johnson headed home at the back post to double Canada’s advantage.

But after going two goals up with a quarter-hour remaining, Occean was sent off following the goal when a scuffle broke out inside Cuba’s box, forcing Canada’s only target man to miss its final match in Honduras Tuesday.

“I didn’t understand it,” Hart said of Occean’s ejection. “To be fair I’ll have to see it again. It didn’t look like much.”

With the teams at 10-a-side, Canada made it 3-0 in the 78th minute when Ante Jazic swung in a left-footed curler that Edgar superbly struck first time on the right side of the box, driving Canada’s clincher low and into the far corner.

Looking to secure passage to CONCACAF’s final round of qualifying for the first time since ’98, depending on the result between Panama and Honduras Friday, Canada will control its own destiny in San Pedro Sula in three days’ time.


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