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Canada tops Cuba to advance to CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinals

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Canada got exactly what it wanted advancing to the CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinals.

Junior Hoilett, Jonathan Osorio, Jayden Nelson and Liam Millar scored as Canada topped Cuba 4-2 in their group stage finale on Tuesday at Shell Energy Stadium. The victory means Canada will face Group A winner U.S. in the tournament quarterfinals on Sunday at TQL Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio.

"We were pretty clear coming into this match (about) which team we wanted to play and what game we wanted to experience in the Gold Cup," Canada head coach John Herdman said at the post-game press conference.

"The football Gods have given us our derby match."

The last time Canada and the U.S. met was June 18 at the CONCACAF Nations League final — Canada's first international final since 2000 — where the Americans halted Canada's hopes of its first trophy in 23 years with a 2-0 win.

Canada is looking to halt a different run with a win on Sunday.

"Playing in the U.S. is difficult, it's a home match for them, the Nations League final was a home match for them," Herdman said. "We haven't beaten them here since 1957, so we wanna be that first team, we wanna be that first coach, that first staff and we want our fans to experience that moment.

"I feel like these last three games, there's been a lot of adversity for Canada, it hasn't been easy. But we've played in really difficult conditions. … Coming out of this, I feel like the group is tight, it's connected and they're hungry."

Canada entered Tuesday's contest needing a victory, sitting third — behind Guadeloupe and Guatemala — in Group D with just two points. The win resulted in Canada (1-2-0) finishing second, with the top two seeds advancing from each group.

Guatemala (2-1-0) finished atop Group D to advance following a 3-2 win Tuesday against Guadeloupe (1-1-1) at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J.

Canada earned back-to-back draws to open the tournament, with a 2-2 decision against Guadeloupe in Toronto last Tuesday and a 0-0 result against Guatemala in Houston on Saturday.

The Canadians improved their record to 10-3-2 against Cuba, with their last meeting being a 1-0 Canada win on Sept. 10, 2019.

Canada got a great opportunity at the six-minute mark when Ali Ahmed sent a short cross in to an open Osorio. He knocked the ball off the crossbar and it bounced just inside the line, back up off the bar and out.

It wasn't ruled a goal but play was stopped approximately a minute later. After a lengthy Video Assistant Review (VAR), Osorio was ruled offside and the score stayed at 0-0.

Hoilett scored the opening goal in the 21st minute on a penalty kick, beating goalkeeper Sandy Sanchez with a low shot to the left side.

Osorio redeemed himself in the 26th minute when he put the finishing touch on a pass from Lucas Cavallini for a 2-0 edge.

In first-half stoppage time, Luis Paradela scored on a penalty kick to trim the deficit after being tackled by goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair trying to get by him. 

St. Clair started in place of Milan Borjan who was ruled out of the tournament with an undisclosed injury on Monday.

"The first penalty was tough, the guys were sort of pushing for the third goal just to get the game finished and you could see players were fatigued," Herdman said. "Those moments against the U.S., you're not gonna see those.

"One, I think the climate will be different and two, it's a different type of focus for that game."

The temperature was 31 C with 62 per cent humidity on Tuesday.

Nelson made it a 3-1 game just two minutes into the second half when he found a loose ball off a rebound in traffic and put the ball into the net.

Millar furthered Canada's edge in the 61st minute on a header from a Hoilett corner kick for his first international goal.

"I'm just so proud of Liam," Herdman said. "He's had some moments where he could've scored, he maybe should've scored and it just felt like it's never gonna happen for him.

"We chatted with him prior to the tournament, yesterday I had a little catch-up with him about taking this moment. To see him score, I'm like a proud dad, it was a big moment, so happy."

Cuba threatened late with a corner kick but St. Clair knocked away a header that appeared to be from Yosel Piedra. However, a penalty kick was awarded to Cuba after a VAR in which the officials ruled the ball went off Dominick Zator's arm.

As a result, Reyes just managed to get it past St. Clair in the 89th minute to make it a two-goal game. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 4, 2023.