TORONTO — The first step of a long journey is often the hardest.
For Canada, the first step towards Brazil 2014 begins Friday night against 184th-ranked St. Lucia, an opponent that is statistically one of the easiest they’ve ever faced in World Cup qualifying (8 pm ET, Sportsnet One in Canada, GolTV in US).
"As far as we're concerned, we're not even considering that,” Canada coach Stephen Hart said of St. Lucia’s low ranking and the psychological effect it may have on his players knowing that they are huge favorites to win the game.
“We have not spoken at all about being overwhelming favorites,” he said, making it clear that he doesn’t want his players feeling overconfident. “We are not trusting any sort of discussion like that.”
In recent cycles, Canada bypassed the initial stages of CONCACAF qualification, meaning that they’ve never had to play many of the smaller Caribbean nations that inhabit the earlier rounds.
Until now, that is.
Besides the unfamiliar situation of heading into the match as clear favorites, the Canadians have to contend with an opponent that rarely plays international games, and thus is hard to prepare for given the dearth of information available.
That’s not much of a concern, said Hart.
“Ever since I took over this team, we have focused on us,” he said. “If you focus too much on your opponent, what happens is it takes away from your own game. We’ve been working very hard on the part of the game that we control, which is when we have the ball.”
What is known about St. Lucia is that they have just three players playing their club soccer abroad, with the rest attached to clubs within the island’s domestic league. The three players — Vernus Abbott, Kurt Frederick and Pernal Williams — are all defenders with Trinidadian club side W Connection.
Also, St. Lucia advanced to this stage — the second round of four in CONCACAF qualification — after playing to dual 4-2 results against Aruba in the first round (6-6 on aggregate), then prevailing 5-4 in a penalty shootout. Striker Jamil Joseph, listed as unattached to any club, scored a hat-trick in the St. Lucian home leg of that series.
The only match the islanders have played since then took place on Aug. 21, a 4-1 loss away to Barbados.