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    CHRONO SPORTS

  • Sunday, June 11, 2000

    Cuban rematch a soggy one

    Rain expected for today's soccer match as Canada must protect lead

    By TONY MARASCHIELLO -- Toronto Sun

      WINNIPEG -- If yesterday's torrential downpour is any indication, Cuba may show up for its do-or-die World Cup qualifier against Canada wearing rubber boots and waving white flags.

     The Cubans tried to practise yesterday at the Winnipeg Soccer Complex in preparation for tonight's match (8 p.m., CTV Sportsnet). But just a few minutes into their session, the skies opened up and let loose a chilled rain that sent the Cubans scurrying to their bus for shelter.

     While there is a chance of more rain and cool temperatures today, Canadian coach Holger Osieck dismisses the weather as a potential ally for his rugged team.

     "Nothing is guaranteed," said Osieck, who needs a win or a tie to advance to the next round of qualifying. "The game is won on the field. So what if Cuba wasn't able to train (yesterday)? You can train all your life and sometimes you don't win anything. The bottom line is that you never know how things can turn out."

     Canada beat Cuba 1-0 last weekend in Havana to get a leg up in the home-and-away playoff series. The only way Canada can be eliminated from the next round of World Cup qualifying is if it loses by two goals.

     Canada hasn't lost in its past 14 games (10-0-4) and hasn't given up two goals since the preliminary round of the Gold Cup in February, a 2-2 tie against Costa Rica.

     Should Canada do the expected tonight against the inexperienced Cubans and wrap up the series, it will advance to the semi-final round of qualifying and take on Mexico, Panama and Trinidad and Tobago. Canada's first game in the semis is tentatively scheduled for July 16 against Trinidad at Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium.

     While Canada has shown an uncanny ability in recent games to score timely goals, there is little question that the team's defence will be the key tonight and in future qualifying games.

     The back line consists of three rock-solid defenders who will be playing in the top divisions of their respective leagues next season. Sweeper Tony Menezes of Brazil's Botafogo Rio, Paul Fenwick of Scotland's Hibernian and captain Jason de Vos of Scottish side Dundee United have allowed the opposition few chances in recent games.

     Canada has allowed just one goal -- in a friendly against Honduras -- in its past six games.

     Against Cuba last week, the Canadian defence did a great job of limiting the opposition to just one scoring chance on its home field.

     "If we can stop Cuba a little further up the field (today), we'll be in good shape," said de Vos, who scored Canada's lone goal against Cuba. "On paper, we're the favourites, but technically they're very good. We have to be careful."

     Canada has been forced to play an extra round of qualifying for the 2002 World Cup in Japan and Korea because of its poor showing in the final stage of qualifying for the 1998 World Cup.



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