TORONTO - Canada's big 3-0 win over Cuba at BMO Field on Friday night was partially overshadowed by the fact that the visitors only showed up to the stadium with 11 players available for selection.
The Cubans had travelled to Canada ahead of the World Cup qualifier with 15 men in their squad, but four of the players were nowhere to be found when the starting lineups were announced an hour prior to kickoff.
While defection to the United States, a one-hour drive from Toronto, was not explicitly given as the reason for the absences, Cuban head coach Alexander Gonzalez implied as much in the post-match press conference.
"As with any Cuban sport team that travels around the world, they are all chasing the American dream," Gonzalez told reporters through a translator. "Obviously, it's a difficult situation for the team and it's tough for [me] to talk about it."
Gonzalez also held FIFA accountable for the situation that faces Cuban players, laying some of the blame on soccer's world governing body.
"If FIFA would allow these players in other leagues, perhaps this wouldn't happen in the future," the Cuban boss stated. "It can affect the sport in different situations."
The absences left Cuba without any substitutes on the bench, leading to an expected result for the Canadians. The hosts stormed their opponents' end from the opening whistle, and felt hard done by that they only scored three times.
In the end, though, Canada coach Stephen Hart was happy with the result, even if it was against an undermanned foe amid unique circumstances.
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"We found out about it [before the match], we didn't tell the players anything," Hart said of the missing Cuban players. "We should have realized we could have just waited for the second half and looked to win the game in the second half, which we eventually did anyway."
When asked if he got any official explanation for the Cuban absences, Hart smiled.
"I could guess," he laughed. "But no, I didn't."
The victory gave Canada temporary hold of top spot in Group C with one match at Honduras remaining. The Canadians can clinch a spot in next year's final round of CONCACAF's World Cup qualification tournament with a win or draw in San Pedro Sula on Tuesday.
- Alexander Gonzalez