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Canada's Olivier Occean controls the ball during a 2014 World Cup qualifying soccer game against Cuba at the Pedro Marrero stadium in Havana, Cuba, Friday June 8, 2012. Canada defeated Cuba 1-0. (Franklin Reyes/AP)
Canada's Olivier Occean controls the ball during a 2014 World Cup qualifying soccer game against Cuba at the Pedro Marrero stadium in Havana, Cuba, Friday June 8, 2012. Canada defeated Cuba 1-0. (Franklin Reyes/AP)

Paul Attfield

Honduras standing in way of Canada's World Cup soccer dream Add to ...

Canada doesn’t often win in Cuba – its 1-0 victory last Friday was just the second time this nation has triumphed on the shores of the Caribbean’s most infamous island – but then Canada doesn’t often qualify for the World Cup either: just once in 55 years of trying.

Still, despite getting a leg up on the opposition – a solid three points in the first game of a four-team, double round-robin World Cup qualifying phase – Canadian coach Stephen Hart is not about to connect the two events, and neither should anyone else.

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“We’ve achieved nothing,” he said Monday as he prepared his troops for a home encounter Tuesday with Honduras, which beat Canada twice on the way to qualifying for the World Cup in South Africa two years ago.

While many soccer fans in Canada are in the throes of passion that can only be provided by the big international tournaments, with the European championship the flavour of the month, Hart can only look on enviously and hope some of them spill over into BMO Field in Toronto on Tuesday night.

Through its first six games, Euro 2012 attracted an average of 707,000 viewers on TSN, a marked contrast to the game in Cuba last Friday that barely scratched 50,000 on Sportsnet. And with an exhibition draw with the United States last month drawing 15,000 to BMO, Hart will be hoping for at least that to roar Canada on to a significant step toward advancing to the final round of World Cup qualifying.

It won’t be easy. After losing its opener at home to Panama last Friday, Honduras will be “a wounded animal” when it turns up at BMO Field, although two consecutive clean sheets should be of some comfort, Hart said.

Canadian goalkeeper Milan Borjan, who was called on at short notice last Friday after starter Lars Hirschfeld was sent off for handling outside the area, will be given just his seventh start for the national team, but even with a relative lack of experience compared to Hirschfeld, his teammates have no doubt he can do the job.

“Thankfully there is no difference,” captain Dwayne De Rosario said of the switch. “They’re both calibred ’keepers and you saw Milan come in and fill the void when Lars unfortunately took a questionable red and he did fantastic for us, so you need that same type of mentality and leadership from him in goal.

“We’re confident with him back there and we have a very deep goalkeepers right now and we’re very fortunate to have that and we’re not expecting the level to drop in any way.”

Veteran PSV Eindhoven midfielder Atiba Hutchinson may also get a start for Canada this time after coming off the bench in Cuba having recently recovered from a knee injury, and based on Hart’s scouting report on the Hondurans, every bit of experience could be invaluable.

“A lot of athleticism and technical ability in key positions,” he said of the opponent Tuesday.

“They have some good wide play and of course [Carlos] Costly up front is a big man and a handful, especially crosses in the air, we’re going to have to eliminate [them] as much as possible, and of course deal with him when crosses do come in.”

The reward for a win is huge, as with six points Canada would be a long way toward the 10 or so it will take to ensure moving on, and with a summer break to follow for European-based players, getting it at home would be the perfect sendoff.

 

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