No, it wasn’t pretty.
Playing on a ridiculous pitch in Havana in the first game of the second round of World Cup qualifying, Canada scraped by with a 1-0 victory, and thus narrowly averted disaster.
Tuesday programming alert: Watch Canada host Honduras in a World Cup qualifying match from Toronto live on Sportsnet One on June 12. Coverage starts at 7:30 p.m. ET/4:30 p.m. PT.
Supporters in this country get a sinking feeling around matches like that -- the ones that Canada is supposed to win, the ones that ought to represent three points in the bag, and for awhile it looked like all of their worst fears would be realized. The Cubans had their chances before and after goalkeeper Lars Hirschfeld’s inexplicable blunder, handling the ball outside the 18-yard box, reduced Canada to ten men.
But history will record it merely as a win for the visitors, which brings us to Tuesday night, at Toronto’s BMO Field against Honduras, another one of those situations that includes all of the too-familiar pitfalls.
Home field is supposed to be a huge advantage in soccer. The Cubans had it, not so much because of the crowd, but because in theory they were familiar with that cow patch, and you can bet that when Canada travels to Panama and Honduras in the fall, they’re going to feel distinctly unwelcome.
Here, though, we have a habit of making visitors oh so comfortable, especially when matches are played in Toronto. You never know how many Canadian fans are going to bother showing up at the park. What you do know is that every expat Honduran in the great, diverse city, and every one of their friends and relatives will be there, cheering onLos Catrachos with all of their hearts.
That matters psychologically, it matters emotionally, not just in terms of the morale of the home team, but in terms of the performance of the officials, who -- being human beings -- can be swayed and influenced by the surroundings. If, just once, Canada could play in front of the same kind of crowd that backed Toronto FC when they took on David Beckham and LA Galaxy at Rogers Centre this past spring, there’s no question if would provided a boost.
And a boost will probably be required. The Hondurans, who qualified for South African 2010 -- beating Canada twice along the way -- and who have a history of punching far above their weight internationally, represent a formidable test, despite losing their opener in this round to Panama in San Pedro Sula last Friday.