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MEXICO CITY -- Over the course of his long coaching career, Benito Floro has experienced a variety of atmospheres and environments.
But now as head coach of Canada’s men’s soccer team, he may be in for something new as Canada takes on Mexico on Tuesday night in the Azteca Stadium, a venue known for its fierce intensity and rabid support for the home fans.
Having coached at Real Madrid, Floro’s coached in some of the highest pressure venues in the game. He also has experience in Mexico with Monterrey so he knows very well just how crazy and intense soccer atmospheres can be in this part of the world.
“Everywhere is the same. If a team is important, around it there is a lot of support and the stadium is full,” Floro said on Monday afternoon. “It is normal.”
The stories are plentiful about the hostile reception visiting players receive at the home of Mexican football. There are plenty of stories of home fans tossing their visitors bags of urine as gifts. The players will be undoubtedly focused on what happens on the field over the colour that surrounds it but the partisan support will be doing their utmost to be heard.
“The players don’t pay attention to the people in the stadium. A player’s only focus is on the fight against the opponent and to collaborate with the team to create a good scoring chance,” said Floro.
“The supporters don’t go to the pitch to play,” he quipped.
Despite the 3-0 loss to Mexico last Friday at BC Place in Vancouver and the Canadians massive underdogs in their aspirations of coming away from anything from Tuesday night, Canada still is in a strong position to reach the final round of World Cup qualifying for the first time since the 1998 cycle.
The parity that exists behinds Mexico means a tight three-way fight for that second spot to advance and means September’s games will be great spectacles to behold.
Paul Carr, a senior researcher at ESPN has run some analytics and gives the Canadians a 72% chance of advancing from the group.
The team does still have a tough game in Honduras ahead in September but given some favourable results, they could still lose to Mexico on Tuesday and in San Pedro Sula and just need a win over El Salvador at home in September to advance.
None of the players are actually looking that far ahead, of course, and they’ve come to Mexico and hope to silence some naysayers and defy expectations.
“We know what’s ahead of us. There are no surprises. We had our experience and opportunities to learn about Mexico and how good they are but also about ourselves as well,” said captain Julian de Guzman. “Going into this match, it definitely has a different approach than before.”
Azteca Stadium is a place where teams face so much more than the opposing team. From pollution, the altitude to the aforementioned opposing supporters, there’s a lot to overcome in an atmosphere like that.
Even with a loss on Tuesday night, Canada is still right in the mix for a spot in ‘The Hex’ but getting a positive result against so much adversity as massive underdogs will certainly their hopes of qualifying to that last round a massive shot in the arm.
“It’s a new experience for this team together and it’s a great way to prove our worth and knowing that it’s not one game that defines us,” said de Guzman. “It’s the six games that we’ll see if we’re good enough to qualify for the hex. There are three games left. Lots of points to be taken and we know deep in our hearts it’s not over yet.”