NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Canada’s Under-23 team was seconds away from completing its improbable run to the top of Group A at the 2012 CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament, but were pegged back with a 1-1 draw in the final minutes against group minnows Cuba at LP Field on Monday night.
Substitute Maykel Reyes drilled a header in the 90th minute that canceled out Evan James' first-half strike, giving the already eliminated Cubans their first goal and first point of the tournament.
James gave Canada the lead in the 25th minute off a nice feed from US-killer Lucas Cavallini. The Uruguay-based forward led an attack up the left side and, after losing his marker with a nice little cut-back, crossed to an unmarked James. The Montreal Impact man fired from 15 yards out and tucked into the corner to Odisnel Cooper’s left.
The start of the second half was almost played at a walking pace as neither side did much to create chances. But out of seemingly nothing, James nearly doubled his goal tally in the 64th minute. The Canadian attacker found some space to head toward goal on the left side of the 18-yard box. After a quick dribble, he unleashed a low shot that seemed to have Cooper fooled.
Cooper moved to his right to claim the ball but had to quickly re-adjust and dive to his left as the ball seemed to have a bit of swerve on it. The Cuban 'keeper was able to get down and got his palms to the shot and no Canadian attackers followed up to knock the loose ball in.
Russell Tiebert made Cooper work once again in the 72nd minute. The Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder played struck a nearly perfectly placed free kick, but Cooper dove well to his left to push it out for a corner.
It looked very much as if Canada were on their way to a victory and the top of the group. But in the dying seconds, Dayrón Blanco lofted in a free kick and Reyes timed his jump perfectly to head it past Michal Misiewicz, the first goal Canada have conceded in the tournament.
The Canadians advance to Friday's semifinal in Kansas City, Kan. They are locked into second place in the group regardless of the outcome between the US and El Salvador, and will likely face Mexico for a trip to London.
Canada -- Michal Misiewicz; Russell Teibert, Doneil Henry, Drew Beckie Matt Stinson, Samuel Piette, Shaun Saiko (c) (Kyle Bekker, 46'); Carl Haworth (Philippe Davies, 77'), Evan James, Lucas Cavallini (Sherif El-Masri, 83'), Marcus Haber.
Cuba -- Odisnel Cooper (c); Yoisel Salazar, Renay Malblanche, Osay Martínez, Jorge Farinas (Ricardo Peña, 72'), Félix Guerra, Maikel Chang (Maykel Reyes, 69'), Arichel Hernández, Arturo Diz Pe, Heviel Cordovés, Dayrón Blanco.