Canada thrashes Cuba to advance to Gold Cup quarterfinals

Coach John Herdman reflects on Canada’s 7-0 win over Cuba at the Concacaf Gold Cup on Sunday.

• Canada 7 (David 3’, 71’, 77’; Cavallini 21’, 43, 45’+1’; Hoilett 50’), Cuba 0
• Canada advances to quarterfinals; likely faces Costa Rica
• Lucas Cavallini, Jonathan David both bag hat tricks

Canada cleared the first hurdle at the Concacaf Gold Cup without any problems. But much tougher challenges are ahead for the Reds.

Lucas Cavallini and 19-year-old forward Jonathan David both scored hat tricks, helping Canada book its place in the quarterfinals with a 7-0 win over Cuba on Sunday in Charlotte, N.C. It was Canada’s largest Gold Cup victory in team history.

Canada (2-0-1) finished in second place in Group A behind Mexico (3-0-0), which beat Martinique 3-2 on Sunday evening in Charlotte. By finishing second, Canada plays the winner of Group B in the quarterfinals. Costa Rica faces Haiti on Monday in Harrison, N.J., to determine first place in Group B. If Canada beats the Group B winner, a semifinal showdown against Mexico is likely on the cards.

Canada is ranked 78th in the current FIFA world rankings, well ahead of lowly Cuba (174th), so this was a game it should have won, as was its opener against modest Martinique. You can only play the teams put in front of you, but let’s be honest: beating Cuba and Martinique isn’t impressive. Canada dominated Sunday’s contest to the extent that it looked more like a training match than a competitive game. Frankly, it was embarrassing at times, and the encounter had turned into a farce late in the second half.

Canada is not going to have it so easy from here on out at the Gold Cup. Costa Rica and Mexico are not minnows. They’re two of the best sides in Concacaf. No doubt, there was a lot to like about Canada’s performances in its wins, but they came against two awful teams. We won’t get a sense of where this Canadian side genuinely stands in the Concacaf hierarchy until it plays the region’s top guns.

Cuba lost all three of its group stage games by a combined score of 17-0. What’s more, midfielder Yasmani Lopez defected to the U.S. and left the squad after the Cubans were thrashed 7-0 by Mexico in their opening game.

Canada most recently faced Cuba five years ago in World Cup qualifying, winning 3-0 in Toronto and 1-0 in Havana. The Reds also defeated the Cubans 2-1 during the 2005 Concacaf Gold Cup. Canada leads the all-time series against Cuba with seven wins and three draws in 12 meetings.

These teams haven’t seen the last of each other. They’ll square off on Sept. 7 in Toronto, and three days later in Cuba in Concacaf Nations League action.

After resting a number of starters last time out vs. Mexico, Canadian coach John Herdman made wholesale changes and went back to a full-strength lineup against the Cubans, with the exception of midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye (unavailable due to a hip strain). Herdman also returned to a 4-3-3 formation after playing 3-4-3 against Mexico. Kaye’s absence meant winger Alphonso Davies played at left fullback. Veteran Atiba Hutchinson, the most experienced player on this Canadian team, was relegated to the bench.

It took Canada three minutes to open the scoring. Derek Cornelius played a great ball from inside his half over the top of Cuba’s defence for Junior Hoilett down the left side. Once inside the penalty area, Hoilett fed the ball across the box for David to finish off.

Cuba immediately turned around and nearly equalized, but Canada goalkeeper did well to tip Roberney Caballero’s shot from outside the box over the crossbar.

Hoilett once again played provider on the second goal, whipping a dangerous cross into the box that Cuban defender Jorge Kindelan stabbed at and deflected onto the far post. Cavallini was in the right place at the right time and tapped it in into an empty net.

Cavallini struck again just before halftime, scoring with a sublime strike with the outside of his foot after a pretty passing play between Davies and David inside the penalty area. He added a third moments later, sliding to poke home a great ball across the box from Davies. It was Cavallini’s ninth goal in 14 games for Canada.

The rout continued early in the second half off a Canadian counter-attack. Davies made a great overlapping run down the left, squared the ball for David inside the box, and Hoilett banged in the rebound.

Cavallini could have made it 6-0, but he put his penalty shot over the crossbar after David was fouled inside the area.

It proved to be only a brief reprieve for the Cubans. David netted his second of the game when he fired a low shot from outside the box that found the back of the net. He completed his hat trick minutes later off a setup from Hoilett. It was David’s fifth goal at the Gold Cup, and ninth in seven appearances for Canada.

NOTES: The 16 nations at the Gold Cup have been divided into four groups, with the top two teams in each group advancing to the quarterfinals to be played in Houston and Philadelphia on June 29 and 30… The semifinals are scheduled for July 2 in Glendale, Ariz., and July 3 in Nashville, followed by the final in Chicago on July 7, the same day as the final of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in France… The United States are the defending Gold Cup champions.

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