Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Canada all-time vs Cuba

I remember a cool-ish June evening 12 years ago. Behind me, in a mostly full stand, a group of older men were discussing Germany's match earlier in European Championships. On the pitch Canada was pushing around a Cuba squad that didn't seem much interested in scoring a goal, even though their World Cup lives depended on it. A dreadlocked Jason Bent drilled a long-range shot against the cross bar.  Paul Stalteri took a throw-in just a few feet in front of me. Canada's best chance came late as Paul Peschisolido's effort dribbled just wide of the post.

My lone Canada cap ended in a 0-0 draw at the Winnipeg Soccer Complex. Jason de Vos' goal a week earlier in Havana was enough for Canada to move on to the next round of qualifying.

It won't be this week.


* * * * *


Canada's upcoming World Cup qualifying match this Friday against Cuba is critical.  With two matches left in the round Canada is third in Group C, even on points with Honduras but down two in goal difference.  Both teams trail leaders Panama by 2 points.

For a number of reasons, a big goal scoring win against Cuba would make things easier going into the team's final match in Honduras next Tuesday.  There are two realistic scenarios where a large margin against Cuba would help Canada's chances:

  • If Panama beats Honduras on Friday, a big win over Cuba leaves the possibility that Canada could advance even should they lose. Here's the math: (PAN margin over HON + CAN margin over CUB) > (HON margin over CAN + 2) then Canada would advance.  At a bare minimum, the goal difference of the teams would have to shift by 4 to make a 1-goal loss in Honduras a useful result.  Realistically, Canada would likely have to score 3 goals against Cuba.
  • Should Honduras manage to beat Panama, Canada could still advance with a draw if they can eliminate Honduras' current goal-difference advantage. For other tie-breakers to come into play the following needs to be true: (HON margin over PAN) + 2 <= (CAN margin over CUB)
I refuse to countenance anything but a win over Cuba. Should Honduras beat Panama, Canada may need to win in Honduras to advance (the scenario above being the lone exception).  Any other result combined with a Canada win over Cuba means a draw does the job (the first scenario is the only by which Canada could advance with a loss).

With the desire for -- and in some quarters, expectation of -- a big win over Cuba, we look to likelihoods.  The historical evidence provides reasons for encouragement and for caution:

CANADA ALL-TIME VS CUBA
Date
Location
CAN CUB
Result
Type
Jan 5, 75
Havana
0 4
Loss
Friendly
Nov 11, 81
Tegucigalpa, Hon
2 2
Draw
WCQ
Oct 10, 96
Edmonton
2 0
Win
WCQ
Oct 13, 96
Edmonton
2 0
Win
WCQ
Oct 6, 99
Los Angeles
0 0
Draw
Gold Cup Q.
Jun 4, 00
Havana
1 0
Win
WCQ
Jun 11, 00
Winnipeg
0 0
Draw
WCQ
Jul 14, 03
Foxboro, USA
0 2
Loss
Gold Cup
Jul 12, 05
Foxboro, USA
2 1
Win
Gold Cup
Jun 8, 12
Havana
1 0
Win
WCQ


In brief:
  • Canada has faced Cuba ten times with an all-time record (W-D-L) of 5-3-2, and GF-GA of 10-9, though that stat is skewed by a 4-0 friendly loss in the 1970s.
  • In WCQs Canada is unbeaten with a 4-2-0 record, with 8 goals for and 2 against.
  • In home matches Canada has 2 wins and a draw.
  • Canada has never managed to score more than two goals against Cuba, while keeping a clean sheet in 6 of 10 matches.
The latter is the greatest cause for concern. Canada is a team that has struggled to score goals, matches against Caribbean minnows on cricket pitches excepted, but will have to reverse their record on Friday to make their road easier in Honduras.

As a Canadian supporter, I'm reluctant to hope for too much. The likeliest scenario, in which Canada needs only a draw in San Pedro Sula to make the Hex, is one I would have gladly accepted when the groups were drawn last winter.

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