NASHVILLE, TN - Canada’s U-23 team was seconds away from completing its improbable run to the top of Group A at the 2012 CONCACAF men's Olympic qualifying tournament, but were pegged back with a 1-1 draw in the final minutes against group minnows Cuba at LP Field on Monday night.
Substitute Maykel Reyes drilled a header home in the 90th minute to cancel out Evan James' first-half strike, giving the already eliminated Cubans their first goal and first point of the tournament.
James gave Canada the lead in the 25th minute off a nice feed from United States-killer Lucas Cavallini. The Uruguay-based forward led an attack up the left side and, after losing his marker with a nice little cut-back, crossed to an unmarked James. The Montreal Impact man fired from 15 yards out and tucked into the corner to Odisnel Cooper’s left.
The start of the second half was almost played at a walking pace, as neither side did much to create chances. But out of seemingly nothing, James nearly doubled his goal tally in the 64th minute. The Canadian attacker found some space to head toward goal on the left side of the 18-yard box. After a quick dribble, he unleashed a low shot that seemed to have Cooper fooled. He moved to his right to claim the ball, but had to quickly re-adjust and dive to his left, as the ball seemed to have a bit of swerve on it. The Cuban goalkeeper was able to get down and got his palms to the shot and no Canadian attackers followed up to knock the loose ball in.
Russell Teibert made Cooper work once again in the 72nd minute. The Vancouver Whitecaps FC midfielder struck a nearly perfect free kick, but Cooper dove well to his left to push it out for a corner.
It looked very much as if Canada were on their way to a victory and the top of the group. But in the dying seconds, Dayrón Blanco lofted a free kick into the Canadian box and Reyes timed his jump perfectly to head it past Michal Misiewicz, the first goal Canada have conceded in the tournament.
Former Whitecaps FC striker Marcus Haber also started Monday's game for Canada, while former 'Caps midfielder Philippe Davies appeared as a second-half substitute.
The Canadians advance to Friday's semifinal at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kansas, as runners-up in Group A, and will likely face Mexico for a trip to London 2012. In Monday's other Group A match, a goal by Jaime Alas in the fifth minute of second-half stoppage time earned El Salvador a stunning 3-3 draw with the United States and top spot in Group A. The draw eliminated the host Americans from Olympic qualification.
Michal Misiewicz, Matt Stinson, Doneil Henry, Drew Beckie, Russell Teibert, Samuel Piette, Shaun Saiko, Carl Haworth (Philippe Davies 77'), Evan James, Lucas Cavallini (Sherif El-Masri 86'), Marcus Haber
Odisnel Cooper, Yoisel Salazar, Renay Malblanche, Osay Martínez, Jorge Fariñas (Ricardo Peña 72'), Félix Guerra, Maikel Chang (Maykel Reyes 70'), Arichel Hernández, Adrian Diz Pe, Heviel Cordovés, Dairon Blanco