Canada enters hostile territory for World Cup qualifier
San Pedro Sula, Honduras listed as world's most violent place in 2011
Canada's World Cup qualifying fate will be decided in a crumbling stadium surrounded by barbed wire.
Built in 1997 for the Central American Olympic Games, Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano in San Pedro Sula, Honduras can accommodate some 40,000, with many of those standing or sitting on bench-like steps in the hot sun.
A win or tie Tuesday (4 p.m .ET) will move Canada (3-1-1) into the final round of qualifying in the CONCACAF region, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.
Don't expect coach Stephen Hart to play for the one point.
"The most dangerous thing to tell a team is they need a draw," he said after arriving at the team hotel Sunday. "Very dangerous."
Honduras (2-1-2) needs to win to keep going.
It's Hart's fifth trip to Honduras and he expects a loud and no doubt proud crowd, which will be celebrating an extended holiday weekend thanks to the Discovery of Americas or Columbus Day national holiday.
"It's their yard, they're comfortable in it and we have to adjust," Hart said of the Honduran home-field advantage.
Canada has not reached the final qualifying round since 1997, when it finished last with a 1-6-3 record.
Tuesday's arena is old-school, complete with what could serve as a moat around the fenced pitch which is further distanced from fans in the stands by a running track.
Defender Andre Hainault remembers the stadium well. Four years ago, he scored his first goal for Canada there only to see the Hondurans win 3-1 and eliminate the Canadians from the World Cup qualifying hunt.
"Probably the most hostile atmosphere I've ever played in," the Houston Dynamo player recalled. "I can remember coming out for the game and you're in this kind of caged tunnel and there's people climbing all over it, shaking it, breathing on you. I won't say spitting on you but not far off.
"And I can remember going out to the field on a warmup. We were there two hours before and I think they tailgate inside the stadium. So you could barely talk to the person beside you. ... I'm sure it will be much of the same Tuesday."
Canada arrived in Honduras' second largest city by charter Sunday afternoon, their arrival pushed back after a delayed takeoff in Toronto.
Armed police were awaiting their arrival. Police with machine guns have been stationed outside the team's well-appointed hotel.
Players will no doubt enjoy the pool and perhaps the local scenery. On Saturday night, the bar drew a steady stream of beautiful people. The heels were high, as were the skirts.
The security is no mere window dressing for a country whose name means "Deep Waters" — a label applied by Christopher Columbus after landing in a deep bay off the country's northern coast.
A 2011 study by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime titled "Global Study on Homicide" reported that Honduras had the highest per capita murder rate in the world (82.1 per 100,000). In comparison, Canada's rate was 1.8.
The Honduran homicide rate has more than doubled between 2005 and 2010.
The Washington Post, quoting Mexico's non-profit Civic Council on Public Security and Criminal Justice, reported in January that San Pedro Sula was the world's most violent place in 2011, surpassing the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez.
San Pedro Sula had 159 homicides per 100,000 residents last year, followed by Ciudad Juarez at 148 killings per 100,000.
The players will be restricted to the hotel other than training.
"They won't be going anywhere," said Hart.
In downtown San Pedro Sula on Sunday, however, locals enjoyed yet a sunny day in the bustling square in front of the picturesque city cathedral.
McDonald's, Pizza Hut and Popeyes were familiar signs, alongside the more colourful Pollo Campero. Street vendors hawked every kind of mobile phone.
A local restaurant's sign advertised "Sport Meat."
Street vendor Moses Bunce, a wad of cash in his hand, was looking to sell tickets for Tuesday's game for 150 Honduras lempiras — about $7.50 Cdn.
The city is an exercise in extremes.
Away from downtown, a busy mall offered North American standards from Tommy Hilfiger to Radio Shack. Getting there by cab involved passing a dead dog wrapped in canvas alongside the road.
Inside the mall, there were two security guards outside each of two banks facing each other. One had a wand to sweep over bank customers before they went in. The other had a shotgun.
Inside a nearby pharmacy, a pair of shotgun-wielding security guards chatted inside the store.
Nestled in scenic green hills, San Pedro Sula is also an adventure in driving. At night, pedestrians pop out of nowhere.
Traffic signs seem to be tolerated, if not adhered to strictly, although there is a certain courtesy between drivers. Licence plates seem optional.
The city, located in the northwest of the country near the Guatemala border, is considered Honduras' industrial capital.
San Pedro Sula is home to two Honduran league club teams — Real Espana and C.D. Marathon — neither of which regularly plays in the stadium that will host Tuesday's game.
Striker Lucas Cavallini joined the team Sunday from his club team in Uruguay, an emergency replacement for suspended striker Olivier Occean.