SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras – It will be a defining moment for a generation of Canada’s best soccer players Tuesday afternoon in Honduras.
In addition to deciding whether Canada reaches the Hex, Tuesday could be the final appearance in a World Cup qualifying game for the likes of Kevin McKenna, Ante Jazic, and Julian de Guzman.
In order to avoid that, the task is simple enough—don’t lose.
“I get goosebumps talking about it,” said McKenna when asked about the thought of Tuesday being his last game for Canada.
“It’s going to be emotional and I hope it keeps going, that’s for sure.”
In order to pack the house at the Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano, the Honduran government has essentially extended a holiday weekend until Tuesday, and ticket prices have been slashed so that just about anyone who wants to go, can.
More than 40,000 fans are expected in what is the biggest game for Canadian men’s soccer in 15 years and the biggest game in the careers of the current Canadian squad members.
“This decides a lot of things for myself, my future, the future of football in Canada, even for a lot of other people, so this is where it’s at right now,” said de Guzman.
“It’s been a headache not to make that Hex, so we know that this is it. It’s coming down to this final game tomorrow and we have to give it our lives.”
When asked what he expects in a stadium that looks like it’s seen better days despite only being 15 years old, de Guzman pulled no punches.
“I expect hell,” he said simply.
“These guys are going to come out with their lives. This is all they have for them and this is what we have to make for ourselves. It’s come down to the stage where it comes down to the most important game not just for ourselves but for the entire country.”
The players say they've learned their lessons after a sluggish and tired-looking team stumbled to a 2-0 loss in Panama. It’s not expected that the scenes outside the Canadian hotel in Panama City - where hundreds of people made noise until dawn - will be repeated in Honduras. The players know a draw is enough, but they're making it absolutely clear that they’re going for the win.
“We’ve got to play our football. I think we sat back a bit too much,” said de Guzman of what went wrong in Panama. “We were too reserved, defensive. We didn’t go in to win and that was the problem, and this game we have to go in to win. If we get a goal that changes a lot of things.”
For his part, Canadian coach Stephen Hart said it’s extremely dangerous to have your team simply play for a tie, so that’s not something he wants to think about. To him, a win is essential.
“[I have] two messages really. One, we’ve very seldom been in this position so enjoy it and two, it’s like a final,” he said.