After two failed attempts to qualify for the World Cup, Canadian midfielder Julian de Guzman couldn’t bring himself to watch the tournament on TV.
Over the next few days the 31-year-old FC Dallas player has a chance to move a step closer to being there in person.
De Guzman and his 61st-ranked Canadian teammates host No. 146 Cuba on Friday at BMO Field before heading to No. 66 Honduras on Tuesday. The right results and Canada will move on to the final round of qualifying in CONCACAF, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.
“These next two games are pretty much two finals for us,” said de Guzman.
No. 43 Panama currently leads Canada’s group with nine points. Honduras and Canada have seven while Cuba has none.
The top two teams in the group advance to the final round of qualifying.
They will join four others in contesting three automatic berths for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. A fourth team will take part in a playoff against a team from another region to see who joins them.
“It’s a dream for a lot of us,” de Guzman said of just reaching the final round of qualifying. “We talk about it all the time. ... You make to that last round, it’s there for you.”
Canada has not reached the last hurdle in qualifying since the competition to make the 1998 finals in France. The Canadians finished last in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying with a 1-6-3 record.
The Canadian men have qualified for the World Cup just once — in 1986.
Canada opened this round of qualifying with a 1-0 win in Cuba. It subsequently tied Honduras 0-0 and beat Panama 1-0, both in Toronto, before losing 2-0 in Panama City.
“The two points that we lost against Honduras at home are pretty much haunting us right now,” said de Guzman. “It’s coming down to these two games where we need big results.”
The Canadians practised behind closed doors Wednesday on a cool day at BMO Field. Coach Stephen Hart says he liked what he saw.
“There were some tackles in the practice today, you would have thought it was the cup final,” he said contentedly. “I like that.”
The party line is to focus squarely on the Cubans and not to think about Honduras until Friday night is past.
Hart says the Cubans play well on the road and should not be taken lightly.
“I think they have not been given credit for the games they’ve played. They’ve played some excellent games.”
Notes: The Canadian Soccer Association has announced a sponsorship deal with Bell. As a result, the two qualifying games against Cuba and Honduras will be available on Bell Mobile TV as well as Rogers Sportsnet ... CSA officials expect between 15,000 and 16,000 at Friday’s Cuba game.