TORONTO – The Canadian national team is heading into the unknown this Friday as they face Cuba in ther opener of the semifinal round of 2014 World Cup qualifying (2 pm ET, Sportsnet).
Head coach Stephen Hart tries as often as possible to scout his future opponents in person, but really had to work to get much information on Friday’s opponent. The Cubans don't play that often, and there is little video footage available on them, so Hart jumped at the opportunity to scout them when they played two friendlies against Jamaica in February. There was only one problem.
“They actually brought the Under-23 team,” Hart admitted after Canada trained Thursday at Toronto FC’s training ground. “So we really don’t know much about what their senior team was doing.”
There is no rule that a nation must name their squad for a World Cup qualifier until they hand in their matchday roster 75 minutes before kickoff.
While the video of Cuba’s games last summer is just too old to provide an adequate look at how the Cubans will play at home in Havana on Friday, Hart does know that they play much better at home than on the road.
“If you look at the Caribbean Cup, they were strong at home,” Hart said. “I think getting used to the pitch is the biggest obstacle. You’re always going to have a passionate crowds but getting used to the pitch is the biggest obstacle – and the heat.”
One thing that the Canadians know for certain is that they’re going to have to maintain their professionalism against what is likely to be a team that will have a penchant for dramatically dropping to the turf under the slightest contact. It’s something they’re used to seeing against some CONCACAF teams and they expect this Friday to be no different.
“It’s definitely hard to keep your cool, but we’ve got to be realistic – it’s CONCACAF,” said forward Iain Hume. “It’s been like this since the beginning of time. They’re going to go down, we know that. It’s just keeping our heads and being professional, because we know ability-wise and effort and strength, I think we’ll overcome them.”
Canada will take one more day to train at BMO Field on Wednesday before flying to Havana. After Friday's match, they’ll be back in Toronto on Saturday to prepare for their second game in this round of World Cup qualifiers against Honduras on June 12.