By Neil Davidson
THE CANADIAN PRESS
TORONTO _ Canada will have to get to the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Chile this October the hard way _ via San Pedro Sula.
The intimidating Honduran city, where Canada’s World Cup qualifying hopes were dashed in October 2012, is hosting the CONCACAF Men’s Under-17 Championship later this month with Canada looking to qualify for the world championship for the third time in a row.
The young Canadians will be playing under likely searing heat at the crumbling Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano, where Canada’s senior side was thrashed 8-1 by Honduras.
Coach Sean Fleming had hoped to take his squad to San Pedro Sula in advance of the 12-team tournament. But he couldn’t make it work this time.
Playing in hostile territory before a rabid home crowd will be a challenge, Fleming acknowledged.
“It’s a great footballing country, they love their football,” Fleming said Wednesday. “It’s a great experience and I love going to countries like that. But it’s something we’ll to deal with that so it doesn’t affect the performance in a negative way.”
Like the Canadian senior team before it, the under-17 side will likely see little of Honduras other than the airport, hotel and stadium, with a police escort for travel in between.
Guns are everywhere in San Pedro Sula, with shotgun-wielding guards a routine site at gas stations.
“’Bestowed’ the title of the world’s most dangerous city in 2012, San Pedro Sula’s rep precedes it,” according to the Lonely Planet travel guide. “Let’s be clear _ few travellers will want to linger long here: there are no sights, there’s little cultural life, and the sultry climate can be oppressive.”
On the plus side, the guide says “most of the crime is gang-on-gang, so it’s very rare for tourists to be targeted.”
Fleming said the security around the tournament draw in December was the tightest he had seen at such an event.
Canada has been drawn in Group B of the CONCACAF tournament with Costa Rica, Haiti, Mexico, Panama and St. Lucia.
Group A consists of Cuba, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and the U.S.
The top team from each group after round-robin play advances to the World Cup while the second- and third-placed teams in each group will play off for the two remaining spots.
Canada opens Feb. 28 against Cuba before facing Costa Rica on March 3, Mexico on March 6, St. Lucia on March 9 and Panama on March 12.
Defender Matthew Baldisimo from the Vancouver Whitecaps residency program will captain a Canadian squad that features nine players from the Toronto FC academy and six from the Vancouver Whitecaps’ equivalent.
Under Fleming, Canada has qualified for the last two world championships at this age group. The young Canadians failed to advance out of the first round on both occasions, compiling a combined 0-2-4 record.
Canada, which also qualified for back-to-back FIFA U-17 World Championships in 1993 and 1995, is hoping to reach the U-17 World Cup for the third time in a row for the first time ever.
Mexico is the defending CONCACAF under-17 champion, having won in Panama in 2013.
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