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Soccer Canadian men’s soccer team focused on pair of World Cup qualifiers

Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan are next up for Canada, but coach Benito Floro says the focus remains on two key World Cup qualifiers in September.

DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan are next up for Canada, but coach Benito Floro says the focus remains on a pair of key World Cup qualifiers in September.

"Our training this week has helped us prepare for these two matches," Floro said Thursday in Austria, where Canada's men's soccer team is in camp. "The players are understanding what they need to do to increase our level and up to now they have been doing things correctly in camp.

"We are thinking about Honduras and El Salvador when we playing Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan during this camp," added the Spaniard.

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Canada (1-2-1) stands third in its fourth-round qualifying group in CONCACAF. Mexico (4-0-0) leads the group while Honduras (1-2-1) is in second, above Canada on goal difference. El Salvador (0-2-2) is fourth.

The Canadians play a crucial match in Honduras on Sept. 2 before playing host to El Salvador on Sept. 6 in Vancouver.

The top two teams in the group advance to the final six-team round of qualifying known as the Hex. The top three teams there will represent North and Central America and the Caribbean at the 2018 World Cup in Russia while the fourth-place side takes on a team from Asia in an intercontinental playoff.

Canada, ranked 93rd in the world, plays No. 138 Azerbaijan on Friday in Rohrbach an der Lafnitz in the first meeting between the two countries. Floro's squad faces No. 66 Uzbekistan in another first on Tuesday in Bad Waltersdorf.

Azerbaijan finished fifth in its Euro 2016 qualifying group with a 1-6-3 record behind Italy, Croatia, Norway and Bulgaria.

Canada looks to use these friendlies as a qualifying warm-up.

"We've got a great group now in terms of quality and depth especially, which we haven't had in the past," defender David Edgar said. "So that's key.

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"We've got young players coming through," he said pointing to midfielder Michael Petrasso.

Midfielder Scott Arfield and defender Steven Vitoria have also added to the squad.

"We're growing as a group," Edgar said. "We've got that one goal and that's to get to the Hex. We've got two big games coming up starting [Friday] and then the qualifiers in September."

Captain Julian de Guzman and Ottawa Fury teammate Marcel de Jong and Toronto FC midfielder Will Johnson will return to their clubs after the Azerbaijan game so they can take part in the second leg of the Amway Canadian Championship semi-finals.

Goalkeeper Milan Borjan, still recovering from a wrist injury sustained in duty with Canada, is also returning to his club side in Bulgaria.

Coming the other way is striker Iain Hume, who misses Friday's game because of commitments to his Spanish club.

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Like Canada, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan are also preparing for World Cup qualifiers in Europe and Asia, respectively.

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