HAVANA – After Olivier Occean got his head on David Edgar’s sublime right-footed cross and drove the ball into Cuba’s net for Canada’s winning goal on Friday, the big striker pointed toward heavens before making a dash to the sidelines.
Occean then found himself in the middle of a mob as his teammates – whether playing or on the bench – joining in on the celebration.
It was a poignant and long-awaited moment – the goal allowed the Canadians to pick up their first win at this stage of a World Cup qualifying competition since a 1-0 win over Guatemala on November 7, 2004. But more than that, the celebration highlighted the growing belief and team spirit existing in the Canadian group.
“It’s unity – all together,” Occean said of the celebration to media after the game. “We’re going through this as a team. We train every day together, we do a lot all together, so it means we are a unit – a team.”
The Canadian squad currently assembled played for club teams in 12 different countries this past season but the objective of getting their country back to the World Cup for the first time since 1986 has proven a powerful bond.
The first target though, is to get the team to the final round of qualifying for the first time since the qualifying stages for the 1998 World Cup. The Canadians finished dead last on that occasion.
Occean himself is in demand after his successful season with club team Greuther Fürth. His 17 goals in the 2.Bundesliga season not only powered Fürth to promotion, but has garnered attention from bigger clubs on the continent. But Friday’s goal against Cuba has special meaning for the Brossard, Quebec, native.
“When you play with your national side, all goals are important," Occean said. "I’m so proud to beat Cuba and scoring the goal, it’s amazing."
With one win already in the bank and a break until September after Tuesday’s game against Honduras, picking up more points against los Catrachos would do wonders for team morale.
“We won the game, it’s fantastic,” said Occean. “Winning is always a pleasure for football players. We won the game and it’s a great three points. We’re going into Honduras on a high.”