ALSO ON SLAM!
Monday, June 12, 2000
Draw a pretty picture
Canada's 0-0 tie with Cuba keeps World Cup qualifying hopes alive
WINNIPEG -- Finally, a 0-0 soccer game Canada can be proud of.
While the national men's team battled Cuba to a stalemate last night before a boisterous crowd of 9,021 at a chilly Winnipeg Soccer Complex, the result means Canada marches on in its quest to qualify for the 2002 World Cup.
"It was a do-or-die situation," Canadian coach Holger Osieck said. "We didn't win but we didn't slip either. The bottom line is that we're through."
Coupled with last weekend's 1-0 win over Cuba in Havana, last night's draw allowed Canada to win the two-game Football Confederation (formerly CONCACAF) qualifying playoff.
Canada was forced to play the two-game series as punishment for its dismal record in the final stages of qualifying for the 1998 World Cup.
"It definitely was an unnecessary round," said Osieck, who came aboard the Canadian program two years ago. "I don't know what happened the last time and I'm not concerned. What I do know is that this series put a lot of unnecessary pressure on us."
Canada advances to the semi-final round of qualifying, starting next month, for North and Central American and Caribbean nations.
Canada joins one of three semi-final groups and will battle powerhouse Mexico, Panama and Trinidad and Tobago for one of two spots in next year's final qualifying phase for the 2002 tournament in Japan and South Korea. Three teams qualify from the region for the World Cup.
Canada's first game in the next round is against Trinidad on July 16 at Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium.
With Canada needing only a tie last night, Osieck went with four defenders instead of his usual three.
Except for a couple of defensive hiccups, Canada's conservative mind-set didn't backfire. In fact, Canada created most of the scoring opportunities in the game.
Canada had several clear-cut chances in the opening minutes against an inexperience Cuban side, including a hit post on a breakaway by Pickering striker Paul Peschisolido.
Osieck admitted he worried at halftime that all the missed chances would come back to haunt his team.
"When you miss too much, you can get punished," Osieck said. "Cuba had one or two chances late because we got careless. But the guys did a good job covering up on defence."
Canada got a scare in the 74th minute when Cuban substitute Sergui Prado got behind defender Kevin McKenna and sailed his close-range shot just over the crossbar.
Otherwise, Canadian keeper Pat Onstad had a relatively light workload in registering his 12th shutout in 27 appearances.
Canada is undefeated in its past 15 matches (11-0-4) and has lost just three times in its 21 games under Osieck. Canada last lost a game in July 1999 in a friendly against Saudi Arabia.
"We have so much momentum right now, we're like a freight train," Peschisolido said. "If we keep playing this way, we're going to be in the World Cup."