Photo courtesy http://www.flickr.com/photos/canadasoccer
Canada got the 3 points against Cuba, but it was a frustrating performance, one that doesn't really convince they'll be able to step up and do what needs to be done in Tuesday's big game.
Canada wins 3-0, finally scores some goals, in front of another big pro Canada crowd. Sounds satisfying doesn't it? Except it wasn't really was it? Until about an hour before the game I'd have bitten the hand off of anyone offering that result. Then the news of Cuba's defection issues popped up on twitter and there was all sorts of merriment and confusion at Gossip, and all of a sudden expectations changed. Canada should have stuffed a defective Cuba team.
With goal difference a very realistic concern as a possible tiebreaker depending on the Panama Honduras result, this was another gift falling right in Canada's lap, a chance to take advantage of good fortune and put themselves in the best possible position going into the last game. Also a chance to work on the attacking side of things, get some momentum going, have the forwards build some confidence. Show that they've progressed from 2011 when there were a few shaky performances against weaker sides.
They didn't really do that though. It wasn't all that convincing as Canada seemed to alternate between looking dangerous and creating chances and somehow not scoring, and for long periods, looking disjointed and out of sync. It stayed at 1-0 for way too long, Cuba had chances and with one shot came very close to equalising. The two late goals were a relief, but that's all, it was quite possibly the world's most frustrating and worrisome 3-0 win. A wasted opportunity to boost the goal difference and goals scored that might have been crucial after Tuesday's game.
The tie between Panama and Honduras means that now that doesn't really matter. We're left with scenario 2 out of the 9 that I went through earlier. Win and we're through, tie and we're through. Lose and we're out, unless Cuba can beat Panama. For the sake of respecting the tiny possibility of that happening, Canada only winning by 3 means that they're still behind Panama in goal difference, so Cuba have to beat Panama by 2 goals more than Honduras beats Canada. So we can discount that possibility. Lose and we're out, Canada needs a result of some kind in Honduras, goal difference isn't going to be a factor. But they didn't know it at the time, it could have been very important and they didn't really take advantage of the chance they were given.
That's the worrying part of it all and why I'm not going with the easy option of sitting back and enjoying the win and instead am worrying about what it means going into the Honduras match, because that is going to come down to a mental game.
I'll have a fuller preview of the game closer to the time, but basically it comes down to the fact that Honduras are very beatable, or at least tie-able. I watched most of the game against Panama on an admittedly very choppy stream, but they didn't look all that impressive. Including that 0-0, they've now been shut out in every game aside from those against Cuba. Canada has 4 clean sheets in 5 games. I'm not really confident that Canada can score, but if they can play like they have in those other games, they can get that clean sheet, and a 0-0 would be more than enough. Honduras are there for the taking.
Of course that other game of the 5 for Canada looms large. The game in Panama where, without Olivier Occean and Dwayne de Rosario, which will be the case again after Occean's joke of a red card, Canada put in a curiously lethargic performance to lose 2-0. All the disruptions and hostile environment reasons will be replicated, if not amplified in Honduras. There's also all of Canada's recent history, the disappointing performances, the heartbreaking concacaffings, there's a lot of ghosts to try and forget about.
So far, Canada have done what they need to do and what I would have expected. They were gifted as easy as group as could be asked for, they've got 10 points, they're in a position where a draw will be enough to go through, that's real progress over the past but this is the real test. Have Canada developed the necessary mental toughness since they crapped out in 2 games in 2008? How about since they allowed the injury time equaliser in the 2011 Gold Cup that knocked them out?
Do Canada have the bottle, the cojones to put the past history out of their mind and put in another good performance? They don't need anything outrageous here, this isn't TFC needing a 3-0 win against Santos Laguna. This is very very doable. Just play like they can, like they have been playing, not like they played in Panama. Put aside the distractions, the ghosts, the inevitable theatrics and refereeing annoyances that will come up. Concentrate and play their game, play up to their potential and that should be enough.
They don't have to play out of their skin, they just have to play out of their minds. Last night really didn't convince me that they're ready to do that.