HAVANA – Canadian national team head coach Stephen Hart is originally from Trinidad and Tobago, so he’s likely used to the sort of heat Canada played in on Friday.
But it was quite the sight to see Hart, who now lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, wearing a full suit – only minus the tie as he guided his team under the scorching Caribbean sun to a 1-0 road victory over Cuba.
“The players suffer, so I should suffer a little bit, too,” Hart joked to the media after the game.
Hart was visibly relieved when the final whistle blew at Estadio Pedro Marrero. He hugged at least one member of staff and showed more emotion than his stoic facade usually gives away when talking to the press.
Though there are 68 spots in the FIFA world rankings between Friday’s opponents (Canada are currently No. 77, while Cuba are 145th), the hosts were not an easy side to break down. With knowledge of the poor-quality field, experience in the heat and tremendous home support, Cuba were a formidable challenge that may surprise the other teams in the group when they play hosts.
“I think Cuba are going to take points from anybody that they play here,” said Hart. “A lot of teams that have a passing game and passing patterns are going to struggle.”
Canada’s goal came against the run of play as the Cubans opened the second half much brighter than the Canadians. Though Canada had long spells of possession, it seemed they put their foot on the gas when the skies were overcast and the heat wasn’t as bad. But when the sun came out like it did to start the second half, the Canadians were put under the gun a little bit.
Had Dwayne De Rosario been able to convert the chance that he sent clattering off the crossbar right at the end of the first half, Hart felt it likely would have settled the nerves quite a bit.
“I think Cuba early on were well organized,” he said. “They did good things and settled down well. It would have been nice if Dwayne’s chance went in right on the half.”
With Lars Hirschfeld being sent off with 27 minutes remaining, Hart admitted his side had to play more conservatively to preserve the win. Nevertheless, Canada will certainly take these three points.
In one game, they already surpassed the total points won in this round of the competition when trying to qualify for the 2010 World Cup. On that occasion, Canada only picked up single points from ties with Jamaica and Mexico.