ALSO ON SLAM!
Wednesday, May 31, 2000
Canadians leave for Cuba(CP) -- Paying for its failure in qualifying for the last World Cup, the Canadian men's soccer team faces an early hurdle in its bid to make the field at the 2002 finals.
Coach Holger Osieck and the Canadians leave for Havana today for Sunday's opening leg of a home-and-away playoff against Cuba to determine which team advances to the semifinal round of qualifying in CONCACAF, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.
Last time round, Canada earned a bye directly into the semifinal round. But Osieck's team has had to start a notch down because former coach Bob Lenarduzzi's squad finished with a dismal 1-6-3 record in the final round of qualifying for France 98.
There is little room for error against Cuba, ranked No. 75 in the world to Canada's No. 63.
"I am always very, very cautious in that regard," Osieck said. "I am never arrogant. But we have to have self-confidence and know that we have to get through this round because our targets are much higher."
Canada will want to score in Havana on Sunday, knowing that away goals count double in event of an aggregate tie. The Cubans have only given up one goal in three home games during qualifying to date.
Osieck watched the Cubans lose their last playoff round to Barbados on penalties after a pair of 1-1 draws.
"In both games they were stronger than Barbados," he said Wednesday from Winnipeg. "They put a lot of pressure on Barbados in particular in Cuba, but they didn't score. That was their problem.
"I think they are very compact physically, pretty strong and not that easy to beat."
The Canadians are riding a 13-game unbeaten streak into Cuba after meaningless wins over sub-par teams from Honduras and Trinidad and Tobago.
Osieck has some questions to resolve going into the Cuba game. Sweeper Tony Menezes is recovering from a hamstring injury and midfielder Nick Dasovic still isn't 100 per cent after a lengthy injury layoff.
Osieck rested Jason deVos on Saturday but elected to play him against Honduras on Tuesday, saying the layoff would have been too long had he not seen action.
Canadian Notes: Should Canada win the CONCACAF Interzone playoff against Cuba, it will advance to a semifinal round group with Mexico, Panama, and Trinidad and Tobago ... Honduras hosts Haiti on Saturday in the opening leg of another CONCACAF Interzone playoff. The third such playoff starts June 11 with Antigua & Barbuda playing Guatemala. ... Goalkeeper Pat Onstad will start for Canada against Cuba ... Martin Nash continues to impress with the national team although he took a knock on the knee against Honduras. Osieck likes the way Nash dictates the pace from the midfield.