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  • Sunday, June 11, 2000

    Canada's road to the World Cup continues

     WINNIPEG (CP) -- Canada survived a bothersome detour in World Cup qualifying, dispatching Cuba 1-0 on aggregate after a goalless draw Sunday night.

     The Canadians, who won the opening leg 1-0 in Havana, had a raft of scoring chances but failed to convert. That made for some drama with a game-if-outmatched Cuban side just one strike from forcing overtime.

     "There's an old law in football when you miss too many chances, you may get punished," Canadian head coach Holger Osieck acknowledged. "And they had an opportunity."
    Canada's Paul Stalteri (right) and Cuba's Alberto Cruzata Rojas fight for possession of the ball during 2002 World Cup Qualifying soccer game in Winnipeg on Sunday June 11, 2000. (CP PHOTO/Fred Greenslade)

     Osieck took solace from the fact his side had created so many chances, but stated the obvious: "We have to improve on our finishing."

     The tie extended Canada's unbeaten streak to 15 games (10-0-5) and moved the Canadians into semifinal round of qualifying in the CONCACAF region.

     That means a round-robin series -- six games the semifinals and another 10 if Canada reaches the final stage -- and no more tricky two-game playoffs.

     Canada, currently ranked No. 59 in the world by FIFA, will be in a semifinal group -- one of three -- with No. 8 Mexico, Panama (119) and Trinidad and Tobago (34).

     Round-robin play starts July 16 in Edmonton, with the top two teams reaching the final round. Those six countries will contest the three spots reserved for North and Central Americas and Caribbean region at the 32-team 2002 World Cup tournament in Japan and South Korea.

     The Cubans showed enough offence to cause the Canadians some concern at times. And they increased the pressure with a string of corners in the final minutes as Canada brought men back in numbers to defend.

     Knowing the Cubans would come out pressing in search of a goal, Canada played a 4-4-2 formation instead of its preferred 3-5-2.

     Despite the extra body, the Canadian backline looked a little ragged facing a trio of Cuban strikers. But Canada began to counter-attack, Cuba started to lose its shape and the scoring chances began to come in bunches for the home side.

     Carlo Corazzin hit the crossbar with a curling cross from the corner and Paul Peschisolido, outmuscling a defender after being released by a long pass from Paul Stalteri, raked a shot across the goal that bounced off a post.

     Winger Jeff Clarke had three solid cracks at a goal in a space of seven minutes midway through the half.

     The Canadians kept on misfiring, either shooting wide or at goalkeeper Odelin Molina.

     Jason Bent, who had missed on a header two minutes previously, forced Molina to tip a solid 25-metre shot over the crossbar in the 40th minute.

     The second half was less eventful, although Canada continued to waste chances.

     "It was frustrating, but at the same time we were quite confident that they weren't going to score on us," Peschisolido said of the missed opportunities.

     The game, played in a stiff wind, attracted 9,021 at the 9,800-capacity Winnipeg Soccer Centre.

     Canada skipped the preliminary rounds in qualifying action for France 98, when CONCACAF seeded six countries and put them directly in the semifinal round. This time, only Costa Rica, Jamaica, Mexico and the U.S. were given byes.

     Canada, which finished last at 1-6-3 in the final round of qualifying for France 98, was consigned to a playoff to make the semifinal round this time around.

     "I think it was definitely unnecessary," Osieck said.

     Cuba was somewhat of a surprise opponent, forced into the playoff after losing to lower-ranked Barbados 5-4 on penalty kicks in Caribbean Zone Group 1 after the series ended in a 2-2 aggregate tie.

     "It was always going to be a difficult tie (match) for us," captain Jason deVos said of the Cuba series. "We've never really been the favourites before. It was a different position for us. Everyone expected us to walk away easy winners.

     "We could have scored a few goals today. I think we were unlucky not to. But, all in all, we're quite pleased that we kept a clean sheet in both games and come away with the (series) win."

     Notes: Canada made two changes, both injury-related, from the starting lineup in Cuba. Kevin McKenna and Jeff Clarke replaced Carl Fletcher (calf) and Richard Hastings (thigh)....The three home games in the next round of qualifying will probably go to Edmonton, Winnipeg and Toronto....It was goalkeeper Pat Onstad's 12th shutout in 27 appearances for the national team....The draw improved Osieck's record as Canadian coach to 12-3-6....Canada's last loss came July 9, 1999, a 2-0 decision against Saudi Arabia.



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