Canada's coach accepts extra World Cup obstacle

Stephen Hart is not the kind to cry over spilled milk. If Canada is to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, it will have to survive an extra round of qualifying.

Stephen Hart is not the kind to cry over spilled milk.

If Canada is to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, it will have to survive an extra round of CONCACAF qualifying.

CONCACAF, the soccer confederation covering North and Central America and the Caribbean, receives three automatic berths for the World Cup finals, while a fourth country from the region is forced into a playoff against a team from another continent in order to qualify.

The six top CONCACAF countries, based on March's FIFA world soccer rankings, received a bye into the third round of regional qualifying. Canada, ranked eighth, enters the CONCACAF qualifiers in the second of four rounds.


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It's an extra obstacle for Hart, but the Canadian national team coach is not dwelling on it ahead of Saturday's World Cup qualification draw in Rio de Janeiro.

"It's not ideal. But you have to move on and can't use that as an excuse. We have to get on with it," Hart told from Brazil on Thursday.

He added: "We knew about this beforehand, so we know what to expect. It doesn't really change anything for us in terms of preparations."

Hart believes countries such as Jamaica (ranked No. 4 in March) and Cuba (No. 6) have an advantage over Canada because they routinely compete in Caribbean tournaments. He argues that Canada only plays in World Cup qualifying games and the biennial CONCACAF Gold Cup, which means it doesn't have as many opportunities to accumulate valuable points in the FIFA rankings, which are based on a team's record in international competitions.

"It shows you the flaw in the FIFA ranking system," Hart said.

The draw for the second round of the CONCACAF qualifiers will split Canada and 23 other teams into groups of four, with the six group winners advancing to the next round. Mexico, the United States, Jamaica, Honduras, Costa Rica and Cuba have earned byes into the third round.

Canada will be separated from Panama, El Salvador, Trinidad and Tobago, Haiti, and Grenada during Saturday's draw in determining the second-round groups.

Among the second-round opponents that Canada could be drawn against are Guatemala, Barbados, Bermuda, Guyana, Nicaragua and Suriname.

"You know the pool of teams you can potentially face and you can't do anything about it, so I don't focus on that too much. Obviously, Guatemala is a tough side and you'd like to avoid them if possible. But other than that, it is what it is," Hart said.

The second round of CONCACAF qualifying begins on Sept. 2, which doesn't give Hart much time to prepare — not that he's complaining.

"It's a short turnaround, but I have a good idea of the team I want to take, so it doesn't affect us much," Hart said.

Hart plans to assemble a team that is an equal mix of players from Major League Soccer and clubs based in Europe.

One player he won't be calling on in September is David (Junior) Hoilett.

The 21-year-old native of Brampton, Ont., is an emerging Canadian talent who scored five goals in 24 games for Blackburn Rovers in the English Premiership. Hoilett is eligible to play for Canada, Jamaica and England, but hasn't declared who he plans to represent in international competition.

"There's nothing new to report. He's waiting until he signs a big deal before he commits. Until he gets a new contract, I don't think he will make a decision about who he will play for," Hart stated.