Canada's World Cup dreams were snuffed out in brutal fashion Tuesday as Honduras put them to the sword 8-1 in a do-or-die qualifying match.
It's a bitter pill to swallow for a Canadian team that went into the match with its fate in its own hands and the unswerving belief that it deserved to move on. That is until Tuesday, when the wheels came off the Canadian bus in a shocking display.
Canada entered the hostile confines of a soldout Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano knowing that a tie or win would be enough to move on to the final round of qualifying in the CONCACAF region, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean. The Hondurans, looking to please their fans on an extended national holiday, needed a win.
Asked if the moment had got to his team, Canadian coach Stephen Hart offered a one-word answer — "Yes."
"You're supposed to go down all guns blazing, you're supposed to fight," he added. "You're supposed to die out there.
"We were horrible. ... It's disturbing to me that the team fell apart."
It was Canada's worst loss since an 8-0 drubbing in Mexico in 1993.
"We pretty much embarrassed ourselves," said midfielder Julian de Guzman.
"We were terrible ... It's an absolute low for us," added captain Kevin McKenna.
Honduras' speed and clinical finishing — combined with Canada's clown-like defending — ended the suspense very early, racking up four goals in a 25-minute span to lead 4-0 after just 32 minutes. The Central Americans made it look easy against a sluggish Canadian side that simply wasn't up to the challenge.
It was men against boys.
"We let in goals early and fell apart. Mentally and physically," said Hart.
Jerry Bengston and Carlo Costly each scored three goals for Honduras, while Mario Martinez added two of his own.
Substitute Iain Hume scored a consolation goal off a nice free kick in the 76th minute before Bengston restored the six-goal cushion six minutes later as the Canadian defence crumbled around him. Costly then scored on an 88th-minute header to complete the rout.
Hart said personally he thought he had done his best but could have to consider his future in the wake of the "crushing" result.
"All I can do is ask the fans' forgiveness on behalf of the players," said the coach, who has six months remaining on his contract. "I know they'll never forgive me but on behalf of the players, forgive them."
Reminded he was not on the field, Hart said: "It's my responsibility."
McKenna disagreed, saying blame should not be laid at the coach's feet.
"It was all to do with the players. Stephen Hart had us well prepared for every game that we've gone into, at least since I've been with this national team," he said. "It would be a same if they point the finger at the coach. It was all the players.
"We drew Honduras in Canada and we should have won that game. To come down here and to lose 8-1 is devastation."
But someone will likely have to pay for this disaster.
A Canadian Soccer Association spokesman said immediately after the game that president Victor Montagliani would not speak to the media until he had a chance to talk with Hart first.
It was the worst start possible for Canada, forced on the back foot almost from the get go after Tosaint Ricketts was unable to get a foot on the ball from in front of goal just after the opening kickoff.
The Hondurans scored in the seventh minute as McKenna and then fellow centre back Andre Hainault failed to corral a high, awkward bouncing ball. Bengston went through the middle and got a foot to the ball to poke it in.
The Honduran forward disappeared in a sea of teammates before emerging to look at the crowd and pound the 'H' on his jersey.
Simeon Jackson almost tied it up minutes later, but his shot hit the post and goalie Donis Escobar saved the rebound chance from Ricketts.
The second goal came in the 16th minute after de Guzman was dispossessed in midfield. Martinez's shot was stopped by Lars Hirschfeld but Bengston was all alone to tap in the rebound.
Costly made it 3-0 in the 28th on a diving header after Bengston played provider, heading a cross back across goal that an outstretched Hirschfeld was unable to get to.
Martinez then made it 4-0 in the 32nd minute, poking the ball through a Canadian defender's legs at the edge of the penalty area and then stroking a shot home to cap off an effortless attack that started deep in Honduras territory.
The Honduran goal bonanza continued early in the second half as Martinez sent in a cross that Costly headed past Hirschfeld in the 48th with ease.
Martinez twisted the knife further with a beautifully curled shot from just outside the penalty box in the 59th minute, upping the lead to 6-0. The crowd went wild, again.
"There's no excuse. No excuse," Hart said. "Everybody said they were good to go. They trained well. Individually we fell apart defensively. The first three goals were basically given to them and it was over."
The Honduran reward is a place in the six-country final qualifying round in CONCACAF. Teams will play a home-and-away schedule in the so-called "Hex" round, with the top three advancing to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and the fourth-place side taking on the Oceania winner in a playoff to see who joins them
Tuesday's showdown came in a country infamous for the highest per capita murder rate in the world and a city known as the most violent on the planet. Guns are everywhere with citizens allowed up to five firearms per person.
The game was supervised by a FIFA security expert from Europe, called in by Canada after concerns about fan harassment at its hotel in Panama. There were no such problems at the hotel here.
More than 400 police were expected at the stadium to marshall the 40,000-capacity stands and the San Pedro Sula police chief told both teams at a meeting Monday that spectators would not be allowed to bring weapons into the stadium.
A handful of police stood along the sidelines, leaning on their riot shields prior to the match as the Canadians came out for their warmup. In the stands, fans stood two or three deep in the aisles.
Mike Klukowski came in for the ailing Ante Jazic while Nik Ledgerwood was in for suspended striker Olivier Occean, playing a more defensive role in midfield.
Jackson was the lone striker up front.
Built in 1997, the venue is a crumbling eyesore with barbed wire and a dry moat around the fenced-in pitch.
Three hours before kickoff, the stadium was a cacophony of noise with horns drowning out the public address system. But the stadium announcer did his best to be heard above the din, yelling "Honduras, Honduras, Honduras" repeatedly in a bid to ramp up the din.
The main stands at the crumbling stadium were a sea of blue-and-white.
Fortunately for those in attendance, there was some cloud cover to take the edge of 30-degree-plus heat. But the sweat still dripped in rivers.
There were dancing girls, drummers and giant puppets. And that was before the players even came out.
The Canadians walked onto the pitch in tracksuits about 75 minutes before kickoff to chants of "Honduras, Honduras." Several of the Canadians applauded the amped-up crowd.
Fifteen minutes before kickoff, the crowd was doing the wave and yelling "Ole, Ole."
La Prensa, the local newspaper, printed a 12-page special on the game with a front-page cartoon of an anxious looking Canadian being tossed in a frying pan in the shape of the stadium while a Honduran player looked on. "You're toast," ran the caption.
The paper also promised on its front cover that 38,000 people in the stadium and eight million around the country will be urging their team on with the "sacred" cheer of "Honduras, Honduras, Honduras."
"Football is like the happiness in this country," explained Wilfredo, who works at the hotel where the Canadians were staying, "because we have many troubles."
Canada foundered at this very stadium four years ago, losing 3-1 in a game that eliminated it from advancing.
This latest exit will be hard to wash away
"It's going to stay with me a long time," added McKenna.
The Canadians have not made the final round of qualifying in CONCACAF since 1997 when they went 1-6-3 to finish last.
Canada's only trip to the World Cup came in 1986, when it failed to win or score a goal.
In the other Group C game Tuesday, Panama (3-1-2) drew Cuba (0-5-1) 1-1 and finished first in the group.
This qualifying round went fairly smoothly for Hart's team. Canada took maximum points from Cuba and defeated Panama 2-0 at BMO Field. But the team failed to convert scoring chances in a 0-0 home tie with Honduras and underperformed in a 2-0 loss in Panama City.
Hart's offence sputtered for much of the round, a problem that was exacerbated when playmaker Dwayne De Rosario went down in Panama with a long-term knee injury. There was no shortage of chances, but the finishing wasn't there. Prior to last Friday's 3-0 win over a weakened visiting Cuban side, the Canadians had scored just two goals in four matches, trying them with Antigua and Barbuda for second worst in the round.
Defence had been sound, however, prior to the San Pedro Sula collapse. Canada posted shutouts in four of the first five matches in this round.
Canada is currently ranked 61st in the world by FIFA. Honduras is No. 66, while Panama is No. 43 and Cuba in No. 146.
Canada's rating puts it sixth in CONCACAF, one spot ahead of Honduras.
The Hondurans have made the World Cup twice, in 1982 and 2010.