Canada survived heat, a hard pitch and a physical Cuba side in a 1-0 win in CONCACAF Nations League A play Tuesday, just three days after running roughshod over the Cubans in Toronto.
Canada dominated play but needed a ninth-minute Alphonso Davies goal for the win.
Despite losing centre back Doneil Henry to a second yellow card in the 55th minute, the Canadian men had 82 per cent possession at the Truman Bodden Sports Complex and completed 696 passes to the Cubans’ 93.
Canada only managed six shots, the same as Cuba, and only put one on target.
“It was a tough game. The surface was not the best but I think we fought hard,” said Davies. “We’re happy to get the three points.”
“This is football. You have to grind a result. It’s not always pretty,” he added
Davies, who had a fine game despite absorbing plenty of punishment from the Cubans, scored 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.
“He wouldn’t be at Bayern if he didn’t have that quality,” said goalkeeper Milan Borjan, who captained Canada for the first time. “The kid is just amazing. He’s a wunderkind.”
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.
The Cubans chopped 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.
“We knew on this pitch and (with) the conditions, the goals weren’t going to be as flowing,” said Canada coach John Herdman.
“But I was really happy with how the players responded,” he added. “I think we controlled the game, even down to 10 men.”
Tuesday’s game was shifted to 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.
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. 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.