This November, Atiba Hutchinson (barring injury) will lead Canada out to their first World Cup since 1986. Thirty-six years is a long time, but in a Canada context, the squad has came a long way in even just the last decade. Ten years beforehand back in 2012. Hutchinson was on the pitch for one of the darkest moments in Canadian soccer history in Honduras. So before we bask in the glory of the World Cup, let’s take stock of how far we’ve came by looking back at a night many of us have tried desperately to forget in Honduras.
Going into their 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign, Canada had gone through three consecutive CONCACAF qualifying campaigns without even making the final qualifying round with their last appearance at that stage ending in an anticlimactic last place finish in 1997. This time round the team was led by head coach Stephen Hart. Hart had worked his way up through Canadian soccer, having served spells as Canada’s U-17 and 20 coach beside becoming assistant manager of the senior team, interim manager and then getting the big role in 2009.
From May 2009 – to September 2012, Canada went from eighty ninth in the FIFA world rankings to seventy-three, a ranking which meant they would being their CONCACAF World Cup qualifying campaign for Brazil 2014 at the second round stage against Puerto Rico, Saint Lucia and Saint Kitts and Nevis. With players the helm such as Lars Hirschfeld, Michael Klukowski, Julian de Guzman, Dwayne De Rosario and Atiba Hutchinson, Canada made easy work of their second round opponents – winning four, drawing two whilst scoring eighteen goals in six games. It was a great start, but the real test for Canada was yet to come, the perennial glass ceiling of the third round.
In 2012, the third round format included all remaining CONCACAF teams – including regional powerhouses such as Mexico, USA and Costa Rica. In order to reach the final round, Canada would have to finish at least second in a group consisting of four teams. Whilst Canada avoided Mexico, USA and Costa Rica, they instead were drawn in a competitive group against Cuba, Panama and Honduras. At the start of third round, Panama were ranked the third best team in CONCACAF, with Honduras fifth and as for Canada, they sat in ninth, if this was to be the time they reached the next round, it wouldn’t be through the easy way!
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Canada made a great start to the group, halfway through – they were sitting pretty with seven points from three games, with wins against Cuba away, Panama at home and a 0-0 draw against Honduras at BMO Field. Although there was a setback in Panama with a 2-0 defeat, Canada got on track with a 3-0 win against Cuba at home meaning through five games they say on ten points. Meanwhile Honduras only had eight points, meaning that if Canada could avoid defeat in their last game away to Honduras, they would finally advanced from the third round!
It wouldn’t be easy, Honduras were in the midst of a golden era, having reached the World Cup in 2010 for the first time since 1982. To back that up, they produced consecutive GOLD Cup semi final appearances in 2009 and 2011, whilst also winning the 2011 Copa Centroamericana. Their line up included household European names such as Celtic left back Emilio Izaguirre, Stoke City midfielder Wilson Palacios and Wigan Athletic centre back Maynor Figueroa. To make matters worse, in ten visits to Honduras, Canada had only one once, and lost on six occasions. The day was October 12th 2012, the venue was Estadio Olímpico Metropolitano in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. For Stephan Hart and Canada, this was going to be the day they defy expectations and once again make it to CONCACAF’s final round…
In front of a packed 38,000 crowd in humid thirty degree conditions, Canada made a disastrous start. After a fast paced seven minutes where neither side got a real hold of possession, the ball bounced awkwardly around the Canadian box and while the defence failed to clear the danger, Honduran striker Jerry Bengston got in between a ball between defender Andre Hainault and goalkeeper Lars Hirschfeld to tap home the opening goal and raise the decibel level even more! Canada nearly made the perfect response though three minutes later, striker Simeon Jackson hit the post for Canada and his strike partner Tosaint Ricketts failed to convert the rebound, putting the ball straight at the Honduran goalkeeper who was lying on the ground.
Perhaps if that chance was converted, this game would’ve gone differently. And while Ricketts failed to convert a tap in, Honduras would not pass up such a chance. On the seventeenth minute, Mario Martinez’ shot was parried by Hirschfeld into the path of Bengston who with no one near him, calmly made it Honduras 2 – Canada 0. Suddenly Stephen Harts where in real trouble! At this point, it was crucial that Canada kept things tight at the back and slowed the game down, the last thing they’d want to do was to make things worse before halftime..
Twenty-nine minutes in, a Honduran cross from the right found Bengston all alone and with no Canadian defenders near him, he headed the ball into the path of an equally poor marked Carlo Costly who made it Honduras 3 – Canada 0. At this point the game may have appeared lost, and just four minutes later, it might’ve well has been. From just outside the box, Mario Martinez collected the ball and skilfully took it past Canada defender Andre Hainault before slotting it home. It was now an empathic four-nil lead for the hosts going into the break.
Even the most optimistic Canada fan at this point would tell you it was game over, Ian Hume came on for Nik Ledgerwood but ultimately, it wouldn’t change how the game was going. The home team was still out for blood, and just four minutes into the second half. Oscar Garcia played the ball into Martinez in the box, and the midfielders cross into the path of Costly was unfortunately bundled into his own net by David Edgar…Honduras 5, Canada 0, fifty minutes still to go! Completely dejected now, Canada just wanted the full time whistle, but thaw damage wasn’t done yet. With sixty-one minutes played, Honduras worked the ball out to Martinez just outside Canada’s box and from twenty yards out, he curled the ball into the top left corner, in a game (unfortunately) filled with a lot of goals, this as perhaps the pick of the bunch as it was now 6 (yes, SIX) – 0.
Canada’s record defeat was 8-0 away to Mexico in 1993, and the plan now amongst others would’ve been to avoid equalling such infamy. On the seventy-sixth minute, Ian Hume won a free kick just outside the Honduran box towards the left hand side of the goal. Hume himself stepped up and fired the ball into the opposite side of the goal past Honduran keeper Jose Mendoza to get Canada on the scoreboard. Honduras 6, Canada 1, at least they had scored a goal! A 6-1 defeat is humiliating, but all Canada had to do was hold out for thirteen minutes to not make it any worse.
I’d love to tell you that Canada we’re able to close up shop and leave the damage at just six…but on the eighty-third minute – Honduras struck again. Bengston managed to get onto the end in a threw ball into the box, and after easily out outmuscling Hainault, he calmly slotted the ball home for Honduras’ seventh goal, and Bengston’s third goal of the game for his hatrick. Five minutes later, Canada’s misery was complete. From a short corner, the ball was crossed into the path of Costly who rose highest amongst a sea of red jerseys to head the ball past Hirschfeld – the second Honduran to score a hatrick on the day as Honduras made the score 8-1. Eventually the final whistle blew, ending the game and officially ending Canada’s World Cup campaign, which ultimately had died after seven minutes. Canada never recovered from conceding the early goals and played like a dejected, demoralised and well beaten team. Head coach Stephen Hart resigned from his role on October 18th, just two days after the game.
The result was crushing, the consensus was that this Canada team had what it took to reach the final round of CONCACAF qualification, but once again they had crashed out before then, For players like Kevin McKenna, Lars Hirschfeld and Michael Klukowski, it proved to be their last shot at a World Cup. For others in the squad like Julian de Guzman and Dwayne De Rosario, it would be the closets they would get to that stage also, as Canada also bowed out early in 2018 qualification. But there is a happy ending for three players involved that day; unused substitute goalkeeper Milan Borjan is now Canada’s undisputed number one and made plenty of key saves along the way to securing qualification to the 2022 World Cup. Lucas Cavallini made his World Cup qualification game debut in that infamous game as a sixth-fourth minute substitute, and is now considered an important squad member and has scored seventeen times for his country. Finally there is mdifidler Atiba Hutchinson. Twenty-nine at the time of the 8-1 loss, he would’ve been forgiven for thinking his chance of being at a World Cup was gone. But now, astonishingly, ten years on from being part of Canada’s lowest ebb in recent times, Atiba Hutchinson will be leading his team out with pride on the worlds biggest stage!
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