Canada's hopes of advancing in World Cup soccer qualifying will most likely come down to a crucial showdown Oct. 16 in Honduras.
But Canadian team coach Stephen Hart isn't looking that far ahead, saying his squad's focus is firmly on its Oct. 12 game against winless Cuba (0-4-0) at BMO Field in Toronto.
"It's a very dangerous thing to play a game before it arrives," Hart said during a conference call Thursday. "They (Cubans) are a proud people and a proud team and they're not going to lie down for anybody.
"Cuba plays much different away from home than they do at home. Having watched the games against Panama and Honduras (both 1-0 losses) they played two exceptional games away from home and should've got a result in both. They were very impressively organized, very quick on the counterattack with two dangerous strikers and a midfielder."
Canada (2-1-1) is tied with Honduras at seven points in Group C, but is third in the group due to Hounduras's superior goal differential. Each team has two games remaining, with the Hondurans facing first-place Panama (3-1-0) on Oct. 12.
The Canadians earned a 1-0 win in Cuba on June 8 and must finish in the top two to move on to the final stage.
"I'd say we need four points (win, tie from final two games to advance)," Hart said. "We've had one hiccup along the way and that's expected with a team that's not week in and week out.
"But I'm sure we have the players and the capabilities to do that."
Canada is attempting to reach the World Cup for only the second time, first appearing on soccer's biggest stage in 1986. The Canadian haven't gone to the final round of CONCACAF qualifying since 1998.
Canada will finish the second qualifying round without its leading goalscorer. Dwayne De Rosario suffered an MCL sprain in his knee in last month's 2-0 loss in Panama.
De Rosario has 20 goals in 71 appearances and is Canada's all-time men's scoring leader. His injury is yet another blow to the Canadian team, which lost the services of midfielder Josh Simpson (broken leg) before this qualifying round began.
Hart unveiled his 21-man roster Thursday and will look to Iain Hume, a 28-year-old with 36 national team appearances — including 17 starts — to replace De Rosario's offensive contributions in the lineup.
"We've not been prolific in scoring goals the last two or three years, so that was not a big secret coming in even though I did think we would've done better in front of goal," Hart said. "After looking at all the games over and over, it's not for a lack of creating chances."
While Cuba hasn't scored in this round, Canada has just two goals thus far. That makes the loss of both Simpson and De Rosario hurt even more.
"We've played this campaign without Josh Simpson and now we have to go without Dwayne," Hart said. "You not only lose goalscoring but the threat of attack with those players out.
"But it's a team thing and players are going to have to pick up the goalscoring. I don't really care where it comes from. We're just going to have to sort of pick up the slack on missing those players and do our best."
Hart doesn't envision making radical changes to the Canadian team's game to bolster its offensive production.
"I don't think style is the problem," he said. "We don't have a lot of time to work on those things, obviously.
"You only have two or three training sessions. We will continue to do the things we are strong at and hopefully these things fall in place."
Should Canada down Cuba, Hart realizes his team will have to play before what will be a hostile home crowd in Honduras. But the Canadians will be used to any extra attention after dealing with rowdy Panamanian fans camping outside their hotel prior to last month's contest there.
"We've taken some precautionary measures and done everything possible on our end," Hart said. "Short of landing a couple of hours before the game and stepping on to the field we've taken every single precaution that we think will eliminate that sort of disturbance.
"I don't care who you are, playing away from home is difficult . . . it's never easy but it's not an impossible task. Make no bones about it, the players are quite aware of that. "