Canada missing Occean for Panama game
John Molinaro September 10, 2012
If Canada is to defeat Panama in Tuesday's World Cup qualifying match, it will have to do it without Olivier Occean.
Occean was in the starting lineup for Canada's 1-0 win over Panama last Friday in Toronto, but the striker did not travel to Panama City for the return match because of a back injury.
Canadian coach Stephen Hart confirmed that Occean returned to Germany where he rejoined his pro club because he was not fit to face the Panamanians
"He picked up an injury and we thought it was best to send him back to his club. He could not play," Hart told reporters during a Monday afternoon conference call.
Tuesday programming alert: Watch Panama vs. Canada in FIFA World Cup qualifying live on Sportsnet ONE. Coverage starts at 8:30 pm ET with our pre-game show. You can also watch the game nation wide on CITYtv starting at 9 pm ET.
The loss of Occean is a bit of a blow for Canada as the 30-year-old native of Brosard, Que., has six goals in 27 appearances, including netting the lone goal in a 1-0 qualifying win over Cuba in June.
He's also coming off a stellar 2011-12 season in which he finished as the top scorer in Germany's second division with 17 goals and helped Greuther Furth win promotion to the Bundesliga, the German topflight.
Canada will also be missing suspended midfielder Will Johnson
, a regular starter for the national team over the past few years.
"We're going to have make some adjustments to the line-up. But we trained today the players know what their roles are. They'll be some slight adjustments," Hart said.
Canada tops Group C with seven points from three games. Panama is second (six points), followed by Honduras (four) and pointless Cuba.
Only the top two nations move on to "The Hex," the final round of the CONCACAF qualifiers where the best three countries in the six-team, round-robin group qualify for the World Cup. Canada has not advanced to "the Hex" since 1998, and even then it finished dead last.
Last week's win has put the Canadian team in pole position to move onto the next round, and another victory Tuesday would surely put them on their way. While the absences of Occean and Johnson might force Hart to alter the formation, he insists Canada won't radically change its tactics.
"I would like us to continue using our ball possession to take away some of their athleticism. Probably try to get up the field a little bit quicker than we would have if we were at home. I don't think you'll see too (many) changes to what we're trying to do," Hart revealed.
With Occean and Johnson unavailable, look for forward Tosaint Ricketts and midfielder Patrice Bernier to start in their place
Canada enters this game on the back of five consecutive shutouts. While the back four of Andre Hainault, David Edgar, Kevin McKenna and Ante Jazic have been superb, Hart stresses that it was the overall team defending that has allowed Canada to blank their opponents the last five times.
"It's the working relationship with the midfield. The midfielder defended very quickly, very tight, and has forced teams to play faster than they would like," Hart stated.
Hart helped his team's cause by instructing his players to keep a compact shape by clogging the middle and forcing Panama to attack down the wings, something they're not comfortable doing.
"In all our scouting of Panama, they prefer to come through central areas. They're not a team that gets it wide or use their fullbacks in wide positions and try to get round you. They try to go through centrally, so you try to make them something they don't want to do," Hart explained.
While preventing goals hasn't been a problem, scoring them has proven to be a bit of an issue for Canada. The Reds have only two goals in three games this qualifying round, but Hart isn't over concerned by the team's lack of proficiency in front of goal.
"I keep telling the players if they continue to create the chances, just be a little more composed and the goals will come," he said.
Canada arrived in Panama on Sunday and received what Hart described as an "interesting" welcome. Panamanian fans were camped outside the team's hotel, banging drums and letting off fireworks in order to intimidate the Canadian players.
Then after Canada's training session Monday, Hart said several cars drove in front of the team's bus and slammed on the breaks to stop its progress. Panamanian fans also plan to return Tuesday night in greater numbers with more drums and fireworks.
Such tactics are common place for visiting teams in Central America, and Hart even warned his players what to expect before they travelled to Panama. He also maintains that the players are taking it in good humour and won't let it throw them off their game.
"It's nothing that I've never experienced before," Hart insisted. "We're having a laugh about it and not getting worked up."
After Tuesday's game, Canada closes out the group stage with matches in October against Cuba (at home) and Honduras (on the road).
Panama is 50th in the latest FIFA world rankings released last week, 23 spots ahead of Canada.
Also on Tuesday, Honduras hosts Cuba in San Pedro Sula.