War zone in Juarez?

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 2:56 PM ET

JUAREZ, Mexico -- Before this began, Canadian coach Even Pellerud said there was one thing they'd be able to count on.

"The environment is going to be hostile," he said.

While they'd really rather have home field advantage in Canada, which CONCACAF offered only to have the Canadian Soccer Association turn them down, there's a debate about how hostile it is in the 22,000 seat, 16-row deep concrete-seat stadium a half kilometre from the Rio Grande, where tonight Canada will play Mexico with the winner going to the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.

Canada's previous two games here have been against Trinidad & Tobago (6-0) and Costa Rica (2-0), so they haven't felt the full effect of a game against the Mexicans. But they watched the Americans play Mexico and know what it will be like.

"Hostile isn't the right word," said Mellisa Tancredi.

"It isn't hostile at all. It's patriotic and into the game.

"It's wonderful to play in this atmosphere. I'm not going to complain that they're not cheering for me. It gets me pumped up."

Martina Franco said they'll be cheering Mexico and booing Canada. But it's good booing.

"The U.S. players were booed every time they touched the ball. But it was more in humour than in hostility.

"It's an exciting environment. It's every soccer player's dream to play in front of this kind of a crowd. The stadium is packed to overflowing. They sit in the aisles and stand in the walkways."

Randee Hermus said it would be better if they were all Canadians in the stands.

"We'll probably only have about 10 of them there," she said. "But it's a soccer crowd and we can use it to our advantage as much as Mexico. We just have to make sure we stay focused and play our game. I love crowds like this," said Hermus.

"It's probably the best atmosphere for soccer you can ask to play, it's real high energy. It's up to us to use it," said Kara Lang. "We can't let the excitement, bad calls and dives get to us."

Keeper Eric McLeod said she loves it.

"Obviously it was a great disappointment not to be able to have this tournament in Victoria like we'd hoped. It would have been best if it had been at home. But it's the way it is. And we like this environment.

"Soccer here is a part of the culture. They have an understanding of the game. They cheer for good plays. After the game they want to shake your hand and get your autograph no matter what country you are from. We're all believing we can use this energy.

"Four years ago in Costa Rica they threw cans and things out on the field at you. There, you wanted to play the game and get out of there. Here, with this crowd, you want to get out there and play the game."

Christine Sinclair remembers one moment in Costa Rica.

"Even Pellerud got hit with a can," she said of their coach.

"It's not like that. We like this crowd but I think we need to take the crowd out of it. We know we can beat Mexico. But they do have the 12th man.

"We watched the U.S. game against Mexico and they were dangerous early until the U.S. scored a couple goals. Then the stands got awfully quiet."

Pellerud admits he's not expecting to get hit on the head by a can here.

"In Costa Rica, they actually threw stuff at us," he said.

"Here it is very, very patriotic and loving the game.

"Our players should love this. This is the real thing. But the crowd gives the Mexico team momentum. We saw that with the U.S.A. at the beginning of their game.

"We have to be conscious of not allowing the crowd to be a stress factor for us and I don't think we will. We need to embrace it and use it to give us energy instead of being afraid of it."

The crowd will be different than the game the Canadians lost to the Mexicans four years ago. So will the Mexicans.

"They don't have the stars they had then," said the Canadian coach. "But they play more even and maybe more enthusiastic. And they are probably a more athletic team."

And Canada will be different, too, he says.

"Our preparation this winter has been first class instead of non-existent like it was four years ago. The players have the right focus to do what they have to do. We are injury-free and mentally at the top.

"We have to shake our nerves early and use our skills. And we have to use this crowd."


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