TORONTO - Canada can now start planning for the next round of its World Cup qualifying journey: six matches in just over four months starting with a potentially steamy date in Cuba next June.
The Canadian men have fallen at this stage in four of the last six qualifying campaigns in CONCACAF, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.
There are 12 teams remaining: Canada and the five other pool winners from the second qualifying round have been joined by the region's six top-ranked teams, as of the March 2011 FIFA ratings.
Canada, ranked 83rd in the world, has been drawn in Group C along with No. 53 Panama, No. 57 Honduras, and No. 100 Cuba.
The top two in each pool advance to the final round in the region. That means the Canadians, should they progress, have a minimum of 16 matches ahead in the road to Brazil.
The next part of the journey starts June 8 in Cuba before Canada hosts Honduras on June 12.
The Canadians will meet Panama home and away on Sept. 7 and 11. They wrap up the round Oct. 12 at home to Cuba and Oct. 16 in Honduras.
While Canada has to start on the road, it plays three of the next four games at home before finishing off in Honduras. The goal doubtless will be to pick up points at home and lock up a top-two spot before the Honduras finale.
The Canadian Soccer Association says Canadian venues are expected to be announced in the new year.
Group A features the 34th-ranked Americans, No. 50 Jamaica, No. 90 Antigua & Barbuda and No. 99 Guatemala. Group B features No. 22 Mexico, No. 62 Costa Rica, No. 82 El Salvador and No. 97 Guyana.
The U.S., the largest nation in the confederation, opens at home to Antigua & Barbuda, whose population of about 88,000 is the smallest of any country left in the competition.
Canada failed to advance to the final round of qualifying for the 2101 World Cup in South Africa, going 0-4-2 in a tough group that featured Mexico, Honduras and Jamaica.
Canada also fell at the so-called semifinal stage in CONCACAF in 1990, 2002 and 2006. The Canadian men finished last in the final hexagonal round in 1998 qualifying and lost in a playoff to Australia for the '94 finals.
Canada's only trip to the World Cup finals was in 1986.
This time round, the Canadian men finished off the second round of qualifying with a 4-0 win over visiting St. Kitts and Nevis on Tuesday. Canada finished with a 4-0-2 record in the round, outscoring modest opposition in St. Kitts and Nevis, Puerto Rico and St. Lucia by a combined 18-1.
Still, 0-0 draws against Puerto Rico and St. Kitts were worrying signs, although Canada can point to five straight shutouts, which ties a national team record set in 1996.
As far as its next round of opposition goes, Panama won its second-round group with a 4-0-0 record, outscoring Nicaragua and Dominica by a combined 15-2.
Cuba and Honduras received second-round byes, as did the U.S., Mexico, Costa Rica and Jamaica.
Three teams from CONCACAF are guaranteed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, with the fourth-placed team meeting the Oceania winner in a playoff.
Honduras, the U.S. and Mexico qualified for the 2010 finals from CONCACAF.