For Canada, it’s the biggest game of the last four years, and maybe longer.
The Canadians have a chance to put some early distance between themselves and group favorites Honduras if they’re able to pick up a win in Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier in Toronto (7:45 pm ET, Sportsnet).
Coming off a confidence-building 1-0 win over Cuba in Havana last Friday, the Canadians return home to BMO Field for their first home game of the third round against a Honduras side that dropped their first game of the round at home in a 2-0 loss to Panama.
A win for Canada would put some daylight between them and a Honduran side that qualified for the last World Cup. And it would mean they’re off to the best start in this round of World Cup qualifying since the 1990s.
The two teams met just months after Honduras competed in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. On a rainy day in September where the game had to be halted with about 10 minutes left due to lightning, Kevin McKenna scored the winner as Canada picked up a 2-1 victory at Saputo Stadium in Montreal.
But it’s the Central Americans who hold a distinct advantage in recent battles between the two. Coming into that game in Montreal, Honduras had been running a four-game winning streak that dated back to 2005 and hadn’t been beaten by a Canadian team since May of 2000.
A win for the home side would put them in the driver’s seat with four games left before the Hexagonal.
The whole Canadian team is finally healthy, and trained on Monday. Goalscoring hero Olivier Occean was slow getting off the field when he was substituted in the win over Cuba, and head coach Stephen Hart admitted the striker is feeling a bit sore – but that’s to be expected with a busy schedule and intense training.
Atiba Hutchinson, the do-everything midfielder who plays for Dutch giants PSV, got on the field for the final 25 minutes in Havana after sitting out the friendly against the US while nursing a sore knee. His improved health is a boon for the Canucks.
Goalkeeper Lars Hirschfeld will serve a one-game suspension for his red card in Cuba. Milan Borjan, who came on after the sending off, will get the start on Tuesday.
Los Catrachos will be coming into Toronto as a desperate team after the loss to Panama last Friday. That suggests they’ll try to put Canada under pressure from the start.
While a win or a draw would get Honduras back on track, a loss on Tuesday would put the them six points back of Canada and Panama (strong favorites to beat Cuba at home). It would be a tough start to recover from for a team that's still trying to figure out its identity in the wake of the "Golden Generation" of Amado Guevara, Carlos Pavon and Danilo Turcios, all of whom retired from international play.
Things wouldn’t get any easier, either, as their next game in World Cup qualification in September would be on the road in Cuba on the very poor pitch at the Estadio Pedro Marrero.
Canada: Dwayne De Rosario
De Rosario will want to make up for the game in Havana in which he missed a number of great chances. The D.C. United man had the first real chance of the game, which was saved well, then rattled off the crossbar right at the end of the first half. Against a better team in Honduras, DeRo can’t afford to miss any chance he gets.
Honduras: Carlo Costly
Even Hart admits Costly will be tricky to contain up front. A big, imposing strikrer, the former Houston Dynamo man has scored 20 goals for his country since making his debut in 2007. Currently without a club, Costly started in Honduras’ 2-0 loss to Panama and has only scored once against Canada.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Milan Borjan (Sivasspor/Turkey), Lars Hirschfeld (Valerenga/Norway)—suspended, Kenny Stamatopoulos (AIK/Sweden)
DEFENDERS (8): Nik Ledgerwood (SV Wehen Wiesbaden/Germany), Mike Klukowski (Manisaspor/Turkey), Kevin McKenna (FC Köln/Germany), Andre Hainault (Houston Dynamo), David Edgar (Burnley/England), Ashtone Morgan (Toronto FC), Ante Jazic (Chivas USA)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Julian de Guzman (Toronto FC), Will Johnson (Real Salt Lake), Josh Simpson (BSC Young Boys/Switzerland), Atiba Hutchinson (PSV Eindhoven/Netherlands), Dwayne De Rosario (D.C. United), Pedro Pacheco (CD Santa Clara/Portugal), Samuel Piette (unattached), Issey Nakajima-Farran (Brisbane Roar/Australia)
FORWARDS (4): Iain Hume (Preston North End/England), Tosaint Ricketts (Politehnica Timisoara/Romania), Simeon Jackson (Norwich City/England), Olivier Occean (Greuther Fürth/Germany)
GOALKEEPERS (2): Donis Escobar (Olimpia/Honduras), Noel Valladares (Olimpia/Honduras)
DEFENDERS (10): Brayan Beckeles (Olimpia/Honduras), Maynor Figueroa (Wigan Athletic/England), Johnny Leverón (Motagua/Honduras), Víctor Bernárdez (San Jose Earthquakes), Juan Carlos García (Olimpia/Honduras), Emilio Izaguirre (Celtic/Scotland), Mauricio Sabillón (Marathón/Honduras), Daniel Tejada (Real España/Honduras), Mario René Berríos (Marathón/Honduras), Rommel Murillo (Marathón /Honduras)
MIDFIELDERS (6): Wilson Palacios (Stoke City/England), Carlos Will Mejía (Olimpia/Honduras), Oscar Boniek García (Houston Dynamo), Arnold Peralta (Vida/Honduras), Alfredo Mejía (Motagua/Honduras), Édder Delgado (Real España /Honduras)
FORWARDS (5): David Suazo (Catania/Italy), Kervin Johnson (Deportes Savio/Honduras), Anthony Lozano (Alcoyano/Spain), Carlo Costly (unattached), Allan Lalín (Real España /Honduras)