HAVANA – Canada certainly didn’t make it easy on themselves, but they still managed to pick up a 1-0 win over Cuba on Friday to start their third round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
The Canadians took the advantage nine minutes into the second half on Olivier Occean’s headed goal from 10 yards out, but that joy was muted just 10 minutes later when goakeeper Lars Hirschfeld handled a ball outside his 18-yard box and was issued a straight red card.
Milan Borjan came in off the bench and kept Cuba off the board the rest of the way and, with Hirschfeld suspended for Canada’s next qualifier on June 12, he’ll likely get the start against Honduras.
Canada’s goal came with the hosts in the ascendency to start the second half. Cuba had troubled the Canadian goal a few times before David Edgar’s cross with the outside of his boot was headed home by Occean.
The Canucks had the better of possession from the opening whistle, and got their first crack at goal 20 minutes into the match.
Occean headed back for Will Johnson, who played the ball to the left side and Dwayne De Rosario lashed a right-footed shot that Cuban goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper palmed away. While the ball was still in play, Tosaint Ricketts couldn’t do anything with the follow.
Not to be outdone, the hosts were able to build some chances to trouble the Canadian backline but lacked the skill to capitalize on their chances. Half an hour into the game, Ariel González was played into space in the Canadian 18-yard box, but Hirschfeld got a hand to his left-footed shot and forced a corner.
Whenever the Cubans moved into the Canadian half, the home support rose in voice and to their feet in unison, only to groan as one of their chances went begging.
On the stroke of halftime, a cross landed at De Rosario's feet but his shot rattled off the crossbar.
DeRo had a chance for redemption in the 87th minute when substitute Atiba Hutchinson found him on the left side and in space, but the D.C. United star was only able to put his shot right at Cooper. The Cuban goalkeeper managed to push the ball out for a corner.
With three points now in the bank, Canada have already surpassed their point total for this round from four years ago. In the semifinal round of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, they only managed to register two draws in six games.
The Canadians now head home to prepare for Honduras on June 12 at BMO Field in Toronto.