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That is in effect tipping them to win by a three-goal margin or more, which should be achievable for the Reds.
It is still too early at CONCACAF Gold Cup 2023 to make sweeping judgments about a team’s chances of success. Anyone who disagrees would do well to remember that Argentina lost their first match at World Cup 2022, then went on to win the trophy.
At the same time, of CONCACAF’s current big three Canada have had by far the worst experience at the tournament so far. Whereas the USMNT and Mexico both amassed six points in the group phase, Canada are unable to reach that tally.
The best return they can manage is five points, a figure they will reach with a victory over Cuba on Tuesday. Perhaps it is only a matter of time before John Herdman’s side burst into life, but we have certainly not seen the best of Canada so far.
Canada began their campaign with a 2-2 draw with Guadeloupe. They conceded the first goal in that game but then went 2-1 up and had chances to kill their opponents off. They did not take them and Guadeloupe leveled in second-half stoppage time thanks to an own goal.
Next up was a 0-0 draw with Guatemala at the weekend. It was a hot night in Houston, but this was still a disappointing result. They were on the back foot for long periods of the match, with Guatemala often taking the initiative.
“The one thing we couldn’t do is lose tonight,” said Herdman, trying to take the positives. “We gave it everything to try and win. The moments were there to win the match for both teams.”
Still, no one should get too down. A win by more than a one-goal margin would guarantee Canada a place in the knockout phase. They could still finish top of Group D, if they win big here and Guatemala and Guadeloupe draw. Canada are still alive at the Gold Cup.
Cuba are not. They became the second team to be eliminated from the Gold Cup after Saint Kitts & Nevis. A 1-0 loss to Guatemala on matchday one represented a bad start before Cuba were thrashed 4-1 by Guadeloupe last time out.
It has been a disappointing few days for the Lions. Cuba lost two warm-up friendlies to Chile and Uruguay (matches they were never likely to win) but before that, they had won six and drawn one of their last seven outings - including a 1-0 victory over Guadeloupe.
On the bigger stage that is the Gold Cup, Cuba have not shown what they are capable of. Indeed, the fact they are capable of better is what will frustrate the players and their manager, Pablo Elier Sanchez.
Being without Norwich City striker Onel Hernandez for the tournament is one reason why Cuba have struggled. But Cuba would still have expected to be competitive in their first two encounters, even if they were always going to be heavy underdogs for their meeting with Canada.
Cuba can no longer advance to the knockout phase, which would have been their objective before a ball was kicked at the Gold Cup (they have reached the quarter-finals of the competition three times before).
They will therefore be looking to salvage some pride when they take to the field at the Shell Energy Stadium on Tuesday. But several members of the squad will have bad memories of this fixture: Canada beat Cuba 7-0 at CONCACAF Gold Cup 2019.
Although Cuba are no strangers to reaching the knockout rounds of the Gold Cup, their recent record is dismal. The Lions have not won a single match at this competition since 2015, and they will surely finish bottom of Group D this time around.
Canada have not played their best soccer at this tournament so far - or anything close to it. They are also without their two-star players, Jonathan David and Alphonso Davies, as well as key squad members Sam Adekugbe, Stephen Eustaquio, and Cyle Larin.
The veteran Atiba Hutchinson has also bowed out from the international game, calling it a day after the CONCACAF Nations League Finals last month. Canada, then, are not at full strength in this competition.
But they should still have more than enough to triumph over Cuba without too much difficulty. This is an opportunity for Canada to build some momentum ahead of the knockout phase, of which they will be a part as long as they get the job done here.
With nothing meaningful left to play for, this could be a tough evening for Cuba. We fancy Canada’s chances of coming out on top by a three-goal margin or more - back them with a -2.5 handicap for Tuesday’s game.
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Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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