SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras — Nearly four years on from a spectacular humiliation, Canada’s men’s soccer team returns to Honduras with its World Cup qualifying hopes once again hanging in the balance.
Canada needed just a tie with Honduras at the Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano on Oct. 16, 2012 to advance to the final round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2014 World Cup. Instead they capitulated in spectacular fashion, losing 8-1 in a historic setback for the Canadian men’s program.
Once again, Canada is in position to qualify for final round, known as the hex. The Canadians take on Honduras on Friday before returning home to host El Salvador at BC Place in Vancouver to conclude the penultimate round.
"It’s probably the biggest game since the last time we said this four years ago against Honduras so it’s massive and it’s just about getting the three points," defender/midfielder David Edgar said from Orlando, where the team is conducting its training camp.
"It’s going to be quite similar to the last time we played them because that second spot’s still up for grabs for both teams. It’s going to be a vicious atmosphere but we’re used to it in places like Panama and Honduras. It’s just about getting our heads down and getting on with it."
Head coach Benito Floro took the reins full time in 2013 after Stephen Hart’s resignation following the 8-1 debacle. He’s focused extensively on developing the team’s tactics.
With Honduras expected to be buoyed by the home field advantage, this will be the ultimate test for three years of work.
"It’s a special game because it is an official game and it is very important for both teams towards the qualification," Floro said in a conference call on Wednesday. "But this is a game of soccer. There are two teams, a ball, a referee and a tactical plan. The matter is to understand perfectly what to do."
Everything about playing in Honduras is intimidating. It’s hot, and when it rains it can come in buckets. Organizers have scheduled the game for the middle of the afternoon to maximize the blistering Central American sun.
The stadium has been open since 1997 but looks about 50 years older and is in poor repair. And yet, with Friday being an unofficial national holiday for the game, upwards of 40,000 fans could pack the stadium hours before kickoff, making a lot of noise and breathing down the Canadians’ backs as they take the field.
But where there’s hostility, Edgar sees possibility.
"They’re a very good crowd but they also had a lot to cheer about last time," he said. "If we score away or in any part of the game they can get on the home team’s back just as easily as they can get behind them so we know we can use that to our advantage."
Through four games, Canada is tied with Honduras on four points, with Honduras holding a superior goal difference. But while Canada hosts last-place El Salvador in its final game, Honduras has to face regional juggernaut Mexico on the road. So Honduras is under more pressure to get a win on Friday.
Adding to the pressure for the hosts is the near blanket coverage in Honduras, with plenty of television networks covering its training sessions and its head coach holding a press conference carried live on Tuesday night.