Canada set to challenge Honduras in World Cup qualifier

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Unlike previous trips to the Estadio Olimpico in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, Canada are no heavy underdogs, looking to survive for 90 minutes in front of a hostile crowd, while dodging projectiles from the stands.

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Canada’s men’s national soccer team has played in Honduras a number of times, but never in that position and with such confidence.

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Unlike previous trips to the Estadio Olimpico in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, Canada aren’t heavy underdogs looking to survive 90 minutes in front of a hostile crowd while dodging projectiles from the stands.

Projectiles can still happen, but on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, OneSoccer, Sportsnet, RDS), Canada will play an essential qualifier for the 2022 FIFA World Cup sitting in the driver’s seat in the final round of the Concacaf rankings.

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They are probably the most talented team ever taken to San Pedro Sula, even without Bayern Munich standout Alphonso Davies in the roster – who developed myocarditis after a bout with COVID-19, according to his club coach Julian Nagelsmann.

“We feel good, everyone wants to go out there and get the job done,” Canadian midfielder Junior Hoilett said on Tuesday. “We started the camp in a good mood. Everyone was thrilled to be back and to be among others and to get that feeling of being around the group again, getting your keys back and getting your feet back in practice.

After a pair of hugely entertaining, albeit chilly, qualifying matches in front of sold-out crowds at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium in November, Canada climbed to No. 1 in Concacaf’s eight-team group. The top three head straight to the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, with the fourth runner-up advancing to a home qualifier against an Oceania Football Confederation team – likely New Zealand – for an extra place in the tournament.

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Honduras, meanwhile, sit bottom of the group standings with just three draws in eight group games, and essentially out of the qualifying race.

Canada’s match against Honduras will be the first of three in a tight FIFA international window, with a Sunday home game against the United States in Hamilton, Ont., followed by a trip to El Salvador on February 2.

Depth will play a big role in keeping Canada near the top of the standings through the end of the qualifying round.

Along with Davies, Stephen Eustaquio – who is on loan at FC Porto in Portugal – has also tested positive for COVID, but has still been named to the squad in hopes he will be available in at least one of the next games.

“With the amount of games in the short time frame that we have to play, we have to be adaptable and be able to play different formations and we’re lucky to have that depth in the squad in every position and the chance to have the quality too,” Hoilett said. “We’re excited for Canada and excited for the squad. There’s a lot of young players coming in, which is also exciting. It’s a great, great feeling for soccer. Canadian.

Canada has traditionally not done well in World Cup qualifiers in Honduras. The Estadio Olimpico was the site of the team’s most embarrassing defeat, losing 8-1 in a qualifying game in 2012. Canada have not won in Honduras since a 1-0 victory in 1985, which ultimately led to the country’s only appearance at a men’s World Cup a year later in Mexico.

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Canada was held to a 1-1 draw by Honduras at BMO Field in Toronto in September to open the final round of qualifying, but the two teams then went in opposite directions.

“At the moment Honduras have nothing to lose, they have to go out there and try to get as many points as possible,” Hoilett said. “I think they’re going to come out, all guns blazing and we just have to stick to the game plan, play solid and give them nothing in the early parts of the game.

“If we are able to maintain that and start the game on the right foot and solidly, everything will be fine and we will dominate. I suspect them to pull out all the guns blazing because they have to go out and get the maximum points to have a fighting chance.

Honduras have lost three of their first four home games so far in qualifying, losing to Panama, Jamaica and the United States, while only drawing a draw against Costa Rica.

Canada, meanwhile, are the only team yet to lose in the first eight games of the 14-match home-and-away qualifying format, and enter the competition after a 1-0 win over Costa Rica. and a 2-1 win over Mexico in front of more than 45,000 fans for every match at Commonwealth Stadium.

Canada leads the group with 16 points, one ahead of the United States and two ahead of Mexico and Panama. Costa Rica is in fifth place with nine points.

Jamaica, El Salvador and Honduras bring up the rear, but things can change quickly with three points awarded for a win.

“We are in a great position just past the halfway point of this stage,” said Hoilett. “We just have to stick to what we have done in our previous games. I don’t think we should let go; we must remain humble and continue to push our limits.

“We can always improve in certain aspects of our game to get maximum points in every game. So I think we just have to stay humble and stick to the game plan and that will get us through these series of games.

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