A message leaked from the Honduran camp on Monday.
“Kill or be killed,” one local paper read, a message that the home side has reportedly repeated ahead of this afternoon’s critical World Cup qualifier, a match that will see Canada advance to CONCACAF’s final round with a draw.
“Tuesday has to be like that,” Honduran midfielder Jorge Claros said of the statement.
Ironically, Claros, who is currently on loan at Scottish side Hibernian, survived a gunshot wound to the head during a failed car-jacking here just over a year ago — something that demonstrates the magnitude of today’s qualifier.
“That’s the culture,” Canadian head coach Stephen Hart said when hearing Claros’ comment. “They’ve declared a national holiday (today). That alone tells you how important it is.”
With more than 100 caps between them, not to mention a number of massive European club fixtures, both Julian de Guzman and Kevin McKenna reflected on the enormity of today’s match — and the possibility Canada’s decent run could come to an end in Central America.
“It’s going to be fantastic,” McKenna, the Calgary native said of Tuesday’s game. “It is the biggest game of my career and I hope it turns out good.”
In the run-up to this point, each successive qualifier has meant a little more. From Canada’s opening win in Havana to its must-win match against Cuba last Friday, today’s spectacle is the culmination of an entire summer filled with hopes and dreams, where each point gained moved Canada closer to securing passage to CONCACAF’s last six.
“This is probably the most important game of our lives — and in our careers,” de Guzman said. “This could change a lot of things for us. This is what we’ve been fighting for and it comes down to this one game.
“It’s everything for us,” he continued, before repeating, “it’s everything for us.”
FIELD’S OK, KINDA
During their pre-match field inspection at the Estadio Olimpico on Monday afternoon, the Mexican crew in charge of calling this afternoon’s match were quite thorough in the normally mandatory, but pointless, field inspection.
Upon exiting the pitch, the crew were asked to give their opinions of the surface, one a FIFA official approved here over the weekend.
“So, so,” one official said of the Estadio Olimpico’s field, which is surrounded by barbed wire and a small moat.
“It’s OK to run on,” a FIFA official said with a grin.
That, in a nutshell, is what developed nations face on the road within the region — spotty officiating, shady surfaces and officials that do little to address the issues.
“The grass is very long right now,” Hart said as a middle-aged Honduran stadium worker trimmed the sideline behind him with a machete. “They’ll cut it and roll it for tomorrow’s game.”
If the man with the machete is any indication, he’s likely still working on it.
END OF AN ERA?
A host of long-serving Canadian national team players could call it quits if Canada fails to progress from this afternoon’s fixture.
McKenna, 32, has already announced his likely retirement from international football, and the writing is on the wall with a number of other pieces that have been in the squad for a decade or more.
“I get goosebumps just talking about it,” said McKenna, when reminded today could be the last time he puts on a Canadian kit. “It’s going to be emotional and I hope it keeps going.”
Along with Canada’s steady centre back, 34-year-old Dwayne De Rosario, who will miss today’s match through injury, likely won’t be around for the next World Cup cycle.
At 38, left back Ante Jazic is on his last legs and de Guzman, 31, has hinted that this qualifying cycle could be it.
“It has been a headache not being able to make the (final round),” de Guzman said of his third qualifying cycle. “It’s coming down to this final game tomorrow and we have to give it our lives.
Add to that Terry Dunfield, 30, Olivier Occean, 30, Patrice Bernier, 33, and Mike Klukowski, 31, and this could be the final World Cup cycle for eight Canadian contributors.
WAY BACK WHEN
When Hart took over for former Canadian head coach Dale Mitchell midway through 2009, he wanted to re-instill a sense of pride in a Canadian side that was battered and beaten following a disastrous World Cup qualifying campaign.
“We (had) to become a team that was hard to beat regardless of the situation,” he said of the three-year process that’s brought Canada to this point. “If you’re down you play right through to the final whistle. And if you’re up it’s the same. The (players) have responded really well.”
Four clean sheets in five third-round qualifiers has Canada believing it can play for a result here this afternoon — a testament to the attitude Hart has infused in the side since taking over three years ago.
“We’re playing well and (Honduras) has to beat us,” McKenna said. “I think we have players who can hurt them too.”