By Frank Dell’Apa | Boston Globe Staff
FOXBOROUGH—Neither Canada nor Cuba are known in sporting circles for their soccer prowess. But the two countries presented a respectable level of play in their Gold Cup group match last night at Gillette Stadium, the Cubans taking a 2-0 upset victory.
Cuba, which won for the first time in three Gold Cup appearances, can advance to the quarterfinals by absorbing a loss of two goals or fewer against Costa Rica at Gillette Stadium tomorrow. The top two teams from each three-team group advance.
‘‘This was a tough game, we were playing Canada for first place and we wanted to win for the first time in the Gold Cup,’’ said Cuba’s Miguel Company, a Peruvian who has been among the more successful coaches at the club level in Latin America. ‘‘I didn’t think they underestimated us, they played the same way as they played against Costa Rica [a 1-0 Canada win Saturday]. But our goalkeeper allowed us to maintain the lead.’’
Lester More converted both goals, strong finishes that left goalkeeper Lars Hirschfeld little chance in the 15th minute and, following a defensive error, 23 seconds into the second half. And Cuban goalkeeper Odelin Molina preserved the advantage with some aggressive, spectacular saves.
Both teams played to form, the Canadians relying on size and strength for a direct, aerial game and the Cubans exhibiting Caribbean flair, combined with size and speed. The Cubans attacked early, appearing to surprise Canada with quick ball movement and runs off the ball. The Canadians absorbed the pressure, but failed to launch an effective counterattack until after falling behind.
Jaime Colome put More through in the 15th minute, and More finished clinically into the far left corner of the net.
Canada responded quickly, but Molina stabilized the Cuba defense behind powerful central defenders Silvio Pedro Minoso and Alexander Cruzata. Kevin McKenna and Martin Nash tested Molina with a variety of shots, which Molina either went low to block or tipped over the bar. Canada’s frustration became apparent when Werder Bremen attacker Paul Stalteri, who scored in a 1-0 Canada win over Costa Rica Saturday, stepped on Cruzata’s ankle and was cautioned by referee Peter Prendergast in the 45th minute.
More converted the second goal following a turnover by left back Richard Hastings. Pedro Adriani Faife capitalized on a poor touch by Hastings, taking possession and advancing to the end line, then sending a low cross which More right-footed into the center of the net.
The Canadians attempted to regroup, but the Cubans matched their physical play and were quicker to the ball. Substitute Ian Hume brought dynamism to the right side of Canada’s offense, and hit the side of the net after breaking through alone in the 83d minute. Canada coach Holger Osieck added two attackers late in the match, but neither Carlo Corazzin nor Atiba Hutchinson could make the difference.
‘‘We got off to a poor start and were punished for it,’’ Osieck said. ‘‘We were overconfident after beating Costa Rica and underestimated them, and that’s a fact.’‘
Cuba remained aggressive, Company adding forward Lazaro Dacourt in the final minutes.
‘‘I am familiar with Costa Rica after having coached and played there,’’ Company said. ‘‘Their style is like Brazil, Colombia, Peru, they are disciplined tactically and have a good technical level. This was a tough game and we will have to evaluate our injuries and use [today] to recuperate. This was not just a victory for this sport but for the people of Cuba overall.’’