Canada edges Cuba on Cayman soil

Canada forward Cyle Larin, 9, was a handful for Cuba’s defence to handle on set pieces and headers. - PHOTOS: Spencer Fordin

Canada spoiled Cuba’s debut in its Cayman home away from home.

Truman Bodden Sports Complex played host to a CONCACAF Nations League Game between Canada and Cuba on Tuesday night, and Canada earned a 1‑0 win on the strength of a goal from Alphonso Davies.

Cuba played in Cayman as its nominal home because a stadium it had hoped to use is still undergoing renovations. Cuba will also play the United States at Truman Bodden on 19 Nov.

“Playing at home, you have the support of your fans,” said Cuba coach Pablo Sanchez via an interpreter. “You know the land. You know the people. But I have to say that we want to thank Cayman for helping us to play the game here. Even though we weren’t at home, we felt like we are at home.”

Canada and Cuba had played three days earlier in Toronto, and it was a wide-open offensive affair with a 6‑0 final score. The two teams were quite familiar with each other on Tuesday night and it was a game filled with hard tackles, with Canada dominating the possession of the ball.

The first goal came in the ninth minute off a scramble on Cuba’s defensive end. Canada forward Cyle Larin went to goal and lost the ball on a tackle. Davies, who plays for FC Bayern Munich in Germany, pounced on the loose ball and unleashed a rocket that flew past Cuba goalie Nelson Johnston.

“It was a tough game. The surface is not the best, but the boys came out here and fought hard,” said Davies. “The goal was a good one. As the ball came out, I focused on just hitting the ball cleanly.”

Canada defender Doneil Henry was booked for a yellow card for a tackle in the first half, and he was sanctioned again for a dispute with the referee. Henry was shown a second yellow and a red card in the 55th minute, and Canada spent the rest of the game a man down, but in control of the ball.

In the aftermath, Canada coach John Herdman was pleased with his team’s performance.

“In some ways, I’m happy to go down to 10 men,” he said of the red card issued to Henry and the way his team reacted. “I’m happy for this team to have that level of adversity. We had adversity in the Gold Cup. We were criticised for not having the composure and the calm in that moment. I think the team showed that leadership and a step forward tonight, that we can manage some tough moments.”

Cuba was not just contending with a difficult team on Tuesday night. It was also rallying for its first performance after five players allegedly defected in the wake of their game last week in Toronto. Sanchez acknowledged that event Tuesday, and said his team had done its best in the circumstances.

“It’s definitely not easy, but these are young players that are performing with a mindset that they’re defending their flag,” said Sanchez of the precocious squad that he fielded on Tuesday night. “We tried to always remind them that they should be responsible and they should play with attitude. For some of them, this is their first international game. The average age of these players is 22 years old.”

Both teams had six shots on Tuesday night, but Canada had 82% of possession, according to CONCACAF statistics. Herdman said that his players are accustomed to playing on ‘Rolls Royce’-type playing conditions, and it was an adjustment for Canada to play on a Caribbean field.

“We couldn’t play through the middle and we knew that anything straight we tried to play on one touch is going to bobble,” he said before being asked to evaluate the way that Davies had played.

“When you get on that field, it’s not a dribbler’s pitch. After one or two touches and you create space, it starts bobbling around [Davies] feet and that slows him down. It was a challenge, I think, in some ways, but you can see that they’re putting three players around him.”

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