Cuba and Canada face off in World Cup qualifying
Though it's Cuba's first match in the semifinals of World Cup qualifying, players are already talking about Friday's showdown with Canada as a must-win game.
The match pits the two lowest ranked teams in Group C against each other, so both sides see it as a chance to win. Panama and Honduras are also in the group.
Cuban forward Alain Cervantes said his team needs to start qualifiers with a victory in hope of getting a spot in Brazil in two years.
The two countries have only once appeared in the World Cup finals - Canada in 1986 and Cuba in 1938.
''We're playing at home against the team that seems to be the weakest in the group,'' Cervantes said. ''We have to take advantage and open with a victory if we want to reach what every football player dreams of.''
Cuba arrived directly at the semifinals without having to play in preliminary rounds, while Canada comes in with a string of victories over several Caribbean squads. It won 3-0 over Puerto Rico, 7-0 against St. Lucia and 4-0 vs. St. Kitts and Nevis.
The 145th-ranked Cuba is at the bottom of the CONCACAF's Group C over the qualifiers. Canada is 77th in the FIFA rankings.
''We have a solid team, but scoring goals is our pending task. We lack a killer instinct and skill at decisive moments, in part due to our lack of international experience,'' Cervantes said in an interview with The Associated Press at Havana's Pedro Marrero stadium, where the match against Canada will take place.
The islanders are coached by Alexander Gonzalez, whose squad failed to score at the Pan American Games last year. Cuba had had powerful opponents work to win exhibition matches, drawing 0-0 against football's powerhouse Brazil, and losing 1-0 to Argentina and Costa Rica respectively.
Keeper Odisnel Cooper, forwards Dalain Aira and Jorge Luis Corrales, and midfielder Marcel Hernandez will be Cuba's key players. Yenier Marquez is the squad's captain and the most experienced player.
Canada, which played CONCACAF heavyweight United States to a scoreless draw on Sunday in Toronto, will be looking for strong performance from forward Dwayne De Rosario of DC United, FC Koln defender Kevin McKenna and the 17-year-old newcomer Samuel Piette.
Cuba and Canada played four times before during the World Cup qualifying in 1998 and 2002. Canada has three wins and Cuba has none. One of their previous meetings ended in a draw.
The four teams in Group C that includes Panama and Honduras play each other home and away during round-robin qualifying.