Canadian men look to finish the job in Belize

The Canadian men, ranked No. 102 in the world, look to finish off the job Tuesday when they face No. 128 Belize. (Jon Blacker/CP)

TORONTO — Belize becomes at least the 14th CONCACAF country stamp in Canadian captain Julian de Guzman’s passport.

Chances are his short stay there will be pretty benign, given Canada’s 3-0 win in the first leg of its World Cup qualifier last Friday at BMO Field. The Canadian men, ranked No. 102 in the world, look to finish off the job Tuesday when they face No. 128 Belize at FFB Field in the return leg in the Belize capital of Belmopan.

De Guzman says Friday’s win was a good confidence boost after a poor performance in July at the Gold Cup where Canada went 0-1-2 and failed to score a goal.

Canadian coach Benito Floro, while happy with the overall performance against Belize, acknowledged Canada could have scored eight on the night.

"Personally I think we still need to be more of a threat in front of the goal," de Guzman said Monday from Belize City. "That being said, coming on the road now, playing in difficult conditions will definitely put us to the test to see where we stand on the road because knowing what happens in the next stage, it only gets harder."

Having escaped an extreme heat alert in Toronto, the Canadians will have to deal with more steamy conditions in Belize where Tuesday’s forecast calls for 32 Celsius — said to feel like 43 degrees.

De Guzman, who has 83 caps, left Friday’s game in the 14th minute but says a calf injury has responded well to treatment. A healthy de Guzman is a real plus for Canada, especially in a midfield already featuring Atiba Hutchinson and Will Johnson.

Having already played for the senior side in such CONCACAF holiday destinations as Cuba, Dominica, Puerto Rica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the 34-year-old Ottawa Fury FC player knows more hostile countries await in North and Central America and the Caribbean.

"In the early stages (of qualification), such as of now, it seems all nice and easy but once you go into the next group stage against teams like Mexico, El Salvador and Honduras, that’s when the pressure kicks in and the intensity hits another level," de Guzman said.

"But at this point now, where we’re at, we’ve been through it many times and we know all the islands are nice and pretty but we definitely need the result more than anything else now."

The Canada-Belize winner will become part of Group A in the fourth round, the penultimate stage of qualifying in the region. That pool will feature No. 26 Mexico, No. 81 Honduras and either No. 107 El Salvador or No. 148 Curacao with only the top two advancing after round-robin play to the final hexagon round.

El Salvador beat Curacao 1-0 Friday.

De Guzman’s worst CONCACAF memory is the 8-1 humiliation in Honduras in October 2012 which ended Canada’s last attempt at World Cup qualification.

De Guzman, Nik Ledgerwood, Tosaint Ricketts, David Edgar, Johnson and Hutchinson, who all played in that game, are part of the roster for Belize.

Honduras is a ghost they want to exorcise.

"A lot of us want to deal with that," said de Guzman. "And I think a lot of the new guys who weren’t around want to prove something to the footballing world that that happened by accident.

"That’s definitely part of the mission. But the bigger mission is obviously (the 2018 World Cup in) Russia."

Belize, whose population numbers about 350,000 and whose soccer internationals are almost all part-timers, has never been past the third round of qualifying.

In 2004, Canada dispatched the Jaguars 8-0 on aggregate when they met in a similar qualifying tie. Both matches were held in Kingston, Ont., because the stadium in Belize was deemed unsuitable. Stadium issues, specifically a poor playing surface, also prevented the Belmopan Bandits from playing in the CONCACAF Champions League last year despite renovations to the venue.

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