HAVANA – If Canada are to win their opening match in the semifinal round of World Cup qualifying, they’ll likely have to do it ugly.
The Estadio Pedro Marrero, the site of Friday’s match between Cuba and Canada (2 pm ET, Sportsnet), sports a pitch that’s largely overgrown with crabgrass. As the Canadians trained there on Thursday, passes on the ground were prone to bouncing up off the pitch at any time, and any grass that wasn’t crabgrass was dead.
That means if Canada are going to get a result, it’s going to be a major grind.
“It’s probably the worst pitch I’ve ever played on,” captain Kevin McKenna told a small group of Canadian media. “But this is CONCACAF. This is World Cup qualifying and these are the games you have to be up for.”
While in an ideal situation Canada would like to move the ball around on the ground, maintaining possession then building their attacks from the back, the pitch will likely force them to try to be more direct going forward.
“We have to adapt and overcome,” said head coach Stephen Hart. “We have to be sensible in the things that we do. There are certain things that it will disrupt – the speed at how you play it and the timing of your movement.”
The game’s organizers scheduled Friday’s game right in the heat of the day, yet Canada could yet catch a break on that as there is a chance of rain in the forecast. While a Caribbean storm would be no good, especially on the pitch where they’ll be playing, the occasional cloud would have a helpful impact on the tropical weather.
“It’s something I think we’re all used to,” midfielder Atiba Hutchinson said of the steamy climate. “We’ve all been in these conditions before and we’ve all had to deal with it, so I don’t think it will play a major part on the game tomorrow.”
Hutchinson put in a full training session on Thursday. He said after training his knee that had been bothering him feels fine and that he’ll talk with the coaching staff but that he wants to be available on Friday.