Stephen Hart
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Hart serene as Canada prepare for massive qualifying tests

TORONTO – If Stephen Hart is feeling any pressure or stress over Canada’s make-or-break games against Cuba on Friday (7:30 pm ET, Sportsnet One) and Honduras four days later, he is doing his best not to show it.

After getting off to their best start in this portion of World Cup qualifying for more than a decade, October’s games will determine whether Canada will be rewarded with a spot in the Hexagonal round next year or if it will all be for naught once again.

And as is the case for any national team coach, the decisive games could determine whether or not he’ll continue in his current position.

“You know what, I’m happy to be in football,” Hart said after his team trained at BMO Field on Wednesday. “Stress is having to worry about feeding your family every single day and wars around you. That’s stress.”

Hart has been a bit more reserved than usual, but still managed to flash a smile or quip a joke with the gathered media on Wednesday. The team kept their training session closed to the media but speaking afterwards, Hart seemed very pleased with how his team trained.

“Very good, actually,” he said. “The session was fantastic. We needed to be where the players can be free to swear and carry on at each other, so it was good.”

It could be very easy to look past the Cuba game when a much more skilled Honduran side awaits. But if Canada don’t put in a good performance in the Cuba game, that Honduras trip could be too much of an obstacle to overcome.

So while many fans have next Tuesday circled on the calendars as the day it will be decided whether they’re punching a ticket to the final round or just another early exit, that just means Cuba on Friday could very well be a “banana peel” game for Canada.

It’s something Hart and his staff are very aware of.

“We keep everything focused on the Cuba game, all discussions on the Cuba game and [don’t] worry about something we haven’t even really started to discuss in terms of preparation,” he said. “As soon as the Cuba game is finished, you can decide what the discussions are going to be on in Honduras.” 

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