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Canada controls World Cup qualifying destiny in key game

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The Canadian Press
10/14/2012 2:41:22 PM
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With one game remaining in this current round of World Cup qualifying, Canadian coach Stephen Hart is pretty much where he expected.

Facing a deciding game in Honduras.

"We always knew that it would probably come down to the Honduras game," said Hart. "So we have some days to do a little practice session, a little bit of discussion on our approach. And hopefully we'll get it right."

The good news is Canada (3-1-1) is in the driving seat after its 3-0 win over Cuba on Friday night at BMO Field and a 0-0 tie between Panama and Honduras in Panama City.

Hart's team and Panama (3-1-1) top Group C with 10 points, two ahead of Honduras (2-1-2). Cuba (0-5-0) has no points. The top two will move on after Tuesday's final round of play.

A tie or win Tuesday will move the 61st-ranked Canadians into the final round of qualifying in CONCACAF, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.

The Canadians could even move forward with a loss in the unlikely event that Cuba shocks Panama in Havana and goal difference works their way.

Canada's win over Cuba was worth three valuable points but did little for the morale for a team that has had trouble in front of goal as one chance after another was squandered.

"We have a last game in Honduras that's going to mean everything," said midfielder Atiba Hutchinson. "So we have to let this (Cuba performance) go, be happy with it and just work on the finishing because that's going to be crucial for us."

At least Canada remains a master of its destiny.

"It's in our hands," agreed Hutchinson. "We have to go out and defend for our lives. And if we can get any chances to score any goals, it will mean a lot to us. Yeah, the ball's still in our court. We have to be confident that we can go out there and get a good result."

Honduras, meanwhile, has to go for the win. The No. 66 Hondurans are 1-1-0 at home this round, defeating No. 146 Cuba 1-0 and losing 2-0 to No. 43 Panama.

The top two teams in the group will join four others in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying. After a home-and-away schedule of 10 games beginning in February, the top three teams will qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The fourth-place team with face the Oceania winner in an intercontinental playoff to see who joins them.

"You make it to that last round, it's there for you," Canadian midfielder Julian de Guzman said prior to the Cuba game.

Canada has not made the final round of qualifying in the region since 1997, when it finished last with a 1-6-3 record. The Canadian men have only qualified for the World Cup once, in 1986 when they failed to win a game or score a goal.

Canada tied Honduras 0-0 in June when the Central Americans came to Toronto. Apart from a loss in Panama, those dropped points at home have been the only blemish of the round.

Hart's offence, already hamstrung by the longterm injury losses of Dwayne De Rosario and Josh Simpson, will have to make do without the suspended Olivier Occean on Tuesday in the heat of Estadio Olimpico. The target man was red-carded in a goalmouth melee late in the game after trying to retrieve the ball from the net after Will Johnson scored.

As fouls go, it was a minor offence. But Hart will have to rejig, either finding someone to replace Occean at the tip of a Canadian spear that also featured Simeon Jackson and Tosaint Ricketts. Or else revamp his formation.

The coach can replace Occean in his squad but says the logistics will be difficult.

Canada missed an injured Occean in the earlier 2-0 loss in Panama.

Hart can only hope fullbacks Ante Jazic and David Edgar retain their rich vein of form. Edgar scored the third goal against Cuba with a sweet volley while Jazic was a goal-provider on the other side.

"I thought the fullbacks were fantastic tonight, getting into good positions," Hart said after the Cuba game. "They could have varied their crosses a little bit ... but the fullbacks were very good tonight."

Canada is scheduled to arrive by charter in San Pedro Sula on Sunday evening.

Should Canada advance to the final round of qualifying, Canada officials will take part in meetings to determine scheduling of their next 10 games, slated to take place between February and October. The intercontinental playoff is scheduled for November 2013.

For Peter Montopoli, general secretary of the Canadian Soccer Association, reaching the final round will give the men a chance to capture the public's imagination.

"We've seen the interest now, over the last two years, of what playing home matches can do," he said prior to the Cuba win. "And if we can have five matches at home in 2013, it raises the significance or the relevance of the team to the highest level possible.

"And we know the country will be cheering them on as they were watching the women's team (at the Olympics). I'd expect the same thing would happen with our men's team."



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