Canada dominated play, but needed an Alphonso Davies goal for a 1-0 win over Cuba in CONCACAF Nations League A play on Tuesday, just three days after running roughshod over the Cubans in Toronto.
Playing at a neutral site, a revamped Canadian roster found itself dealing with a Cuban side that was decidedly more stubborn and physical, despite reportedly losing players to defection on the trip to Canada.
Davies scored in the ninth minute for Canada, which was reduced to 10 men in the 55th minute when centre back Doneil Henry was sent off for a second yellow card, seemingly for dissent.
It was a physical affair, with the Cubans chopping down Canadians as needed and Guatemalan referee Mario Escobar content to let them play.
Canada, ranked 78th in the world, thumped No. 179 Cuba 6-0 on Saturday at BMO Field, with captain Junior Hoilett recording a hat trick and Jonathan David, Jonathan Osorio and Henry also scoring.
The Canadian men had beaten Cuba 7-0 in group play at the Gold Cup in June.
Tuesday’s game was shifted to the Truman Bodden Sports Complex in the Cayman Islands capital when the stadium in Havana did not pass CONCACAF scrutiny.
While Canada controlled Tuesday’s game, the Cubans were more disciplined in defence — sitting deep with two lines of four and content with the occasional counter-attack by forward Maykel Reyes, who had a stint with Mexico’s Cruz Azul in 2018.
Davies led the way for Canada and, as a result, absorbed plenty of punishment from the Cubans.
He opened the scoring with a powerful left-footed blast from just inside the penalty box after a Cuban turnover at midfield. It was the Bayern Munich teenager’s fourth goal in 15 national team appearances.
Canada had 72-per-cent possession in the first half, but only put one shot on target. The Cubans had one first-half scoring chance, but the ball hit the side of the goal.
The Canadians wanted a penalty for handball in the 46th minute, but didn’t get it. Coach John Herdman introduced Osorio in the 52nd minute in a bid to help open up the Cubans.
With Henry off the field, Herdman brought on centre back Derek Cornelius and removed striker Cycle Larin in the 60th minute. Liam Millar replaced Davies in the 79th minute.
Canada’s career record against Cuba stands at 9-2-3 with a 27-9 edge in goals.
Herdman rang in the changes with only goalkeeper Milan Borjan, defenders Henry and Richie Laryea, midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye and forwards Davies and David remaining in the starting 11.
Canada kept pushing the attack despite the man disadvantage.
Hoilett, who plays for Cardiff City FC, returned home after the Toronto game to deal with a family matter.
In came defenders Steven Vitoria and Sam Adekugbe, midfielders Will Johnson and David Wotherspoon, and Larin up front.
Borjan, making his 47th appearance for Canada, captained the squad. He had almost nothing to do.
The 24-year-old Larin started up front, with the 19-year-old David on the right flank and 18-year-old Davies on the left.
Cuba made four changes from its starting 11 with goalkeeper Sandy Sanchez dropping to the bench in favour of Nelson Johnston.
The three other changes appeared not to be soccer-related.
El Nuevo Herald, a Florida newspaper, reported that three of Cuba’s starters Saturday — defender Alejandro Portal, midfielder Andy Baquero and forward and captain Yordan Santa Cruz — had defected after the game.
All three were missing from the Cuban roster Tuesday.
David Urgelles and Orlendiz Benitez reportedly left before the Toronto game. They were not listed on Saturday’s or Tuesday’s official roster sheets.
CONCACAF did not immediately respond to a question about possible defections. The Canadian Soccer Association referred questions to CONCACAF.
Canada’s next Nations League game is Oct. 15 against the 22nd-ranked Americans at Toronto’s BMO Field. The Americans will host the Canadians on Nov 15.
The winner of the three-team group advances to the CONCACAF Nations League final four. The top two in the group also automatically qualify for the 2021 Gold Cup.
The Canadian men currently stand eighth in CONCACAF, behind Mexico (No. 12 in the world), the U.S. (22), Costa Rica (44), Jamaica (52), Honduras (67), El Salvador (68) and Panama (74).
Panama lost 2-0 to No. 174 Bermuda on Sunday, an upset that is good news for the Canadian men.
They are trying to crack the top six in the region to make the so-called Hex round of World Cup qualifying, the most direct route out of the CONCACAF — which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean — to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.