Boisterous Panama fans greet Canadian soccer team on eve of critical match
If the Canadian men's soccer team was hoping for a good night's sleep Monday, here's hoping the players packed some ear plugs.
Noisy Panamanian supporters planned to camp outside the Canadians' hotel for the second consecutive night Monday to throw off the opposition ahead of Tuesday's important World Cup qualifier.
"We'll see what happens," said captain Kevin McKenna. "I'm sure there were police there so we'll see."
Canada is first in its group halfway through the stage following Friday's 1-0 victory over Panama at Toronto's BMO Field. Gaining four points from its remaining three games would allow Canada to advance to the final round for the first time since 1998.
Panama is pulling out all the stops to avenge Canada's win. On Sunday night, more than 100 Panamanian supporters stood outside the Canadian hotel banging drums, setting off fireworks and inviting passing motorists to honk their horns.
"I've got three kids at home. I'm conditioned," coach Stephen Hart joked when asked how he slept. "It's normal."
Sunday's antics may have been just the warm-up act as local radio shows and newspapers encouraged fans to show up at the hotel with car stereos blaring.
Cars did their best to delay the Canadian team's bus en route to the stadium for training.
A capacity crowd of 31,000 fans is expected for Tuesday's game at the Estadio Rommel Fernandez in what could be the first truly hostile crowd of Canada's World Cup qualifying run. Previous gatherings in Puerto Rico, St. Lucia, St. Kitts and Cuba were far from overwhelming.
"We're footballers. We have to get used to this and playing in these environments — especially in CONCACAF," said defender David Edgar. "If we don't thrive on playing in atmospheres like this then why are you playing the game?"
The Canadians are looking forward to playing on a decent field for the first time in their recent World Cup qualifying travels. Thus far, Canada has had to play on a refurbished baseball diamond in Puerto Rico, a cricket oval in St. Lucia and a poorly maintained facility in Cuba.
The Estadio Rommel Fernandez was renovated in 2009.
The weather shouldn't favour Panama either. The temperature at kickoff is expected to be 25 C with isolated thunderstorms, much cooler than the oppressive sun and heat the Canadians faced in Cuba last June.
"It's a fantastic pitch. It's wet. It's perfect conditions so far and hopefully it stays like this. It's good conditions all around," Edgar said. "It doesn't necessarily favour anyone, it just stops the dryness and the stickiness on the ball.
"I'd say these are perfect conditions and hopefully it stays like this."
Canada will be without two key players Tuesday. Striker Olivier Occean is injured and did not make trip to Panama. Hart said he may rejig his formation as a result.
Midfielder Will Johnson is suspended for Tuesday's game because of yellow card accumulation.
Hart expects Panama to be more aggressive at home Tuesday and use the lineup against Canada that played the final 30 minutes of Friday's game.
The Canadians host Cuba next month before playing Honduras on the road. A win Tuesday against Panama could put Canada in good shape heading into those two contests.
"If you get the result you'll be glad for it," Hart said of the game against Panama. "I really hope we put down a good performance and let the players know we can play for the result.
"If we win, so be it. If we tie, it's sort of in the nature of playing away from home."