“My country. Tuesday’s different.”
These were the words of an angry Panamanian – posted on YouTube by Canada Soccer – who was waiting to greet Canada’s national team outsideTocumen International Airportin Panama Cityon Sunday.
Following the squad’s dramatic 1-0 triumph at BMO Field last Friday, Canada has been forced to deal with all sorts of intimidation tactics since their flight arrived in the Central American nation.
In addition to a hostile reception at the airport, Panama supporters have been doing their best to ensure that sleep won’t come peacefully for the Canadian players.
“Panamanian fans are camped outside the #canMNT hotel with drums, fireworks, and laser pointers,” tweeted Canada Soccer’s official account. “What a warm welcome.”
Tactics such as these are commonplace in Latin America, something that head coach Stephen Hart knows all too well. He acknowledges there’s little that can be done aside from doing your best to remain focused.
“You just have to live with it,” Hart told reporters outside the team’s hotel in Panama City. “You put on your head phones, listen to your music, or whatever. Some people can wear earplugs. It’s normal.”
And getting sleep Monday shouldn’t be any easier than Sunday.
Panama’s supporters “La Marea Roja” have taken to Facebook, Twitter, and radio stations inviting locals to join them Monday night at11 p.m. (local time) for an even larger street carnival.
Getting around the city has also proved to be a problem for the Canadian squad, according to Canada Soccer’s Twitter account.
“Locals doing their best to interrupt the team’s travels around town. Zealous fans cutting off the bus.”
There has even been the threat of curses being placed on Canada’s squad with reports of a man outside the stadium rubbing coffee on his hands and then shaking hands with the visitors hoping it will give the team bad luck.
But many of Canada’s players appear unfazed by these antics as they have dealt with the wackiness of playing away matches against CONCACAF foes.
“They gave us a hard time sleeping [Sunday] night,” admitted midfielder Julian de Guzman at training on Monday. “But this is expected when you come to these hostile conditions. The good thing about it is that the group of guys that we have are familiar with this situation so there’s no surprises.”
Captain and centre back Kevin McKenna echoed the sentiment as the team prepared on Monday afternoon, but he’s also excited about the environment expected Tuesday night (9:05 p.m. ET) at the Estadio Rommel Fernandez.
“The people are passionate about their football here,” said McKenna. “In one way it’s good to see. Maybe they overdo it a little bit. But I think tomorrow you’re going to see an amazing atmosphere here.”
Few seemed as eager for the match, however, as right back David Edgar.
“We’ve got to get used to playing in this atmosphere in CONCACAF,” Edgar told the media during Monday’s training session. “If you don’t thrive on playing in atmospheres like this, then why are you playing the game?”
Tuesday night’s match will go a long way in determining what two teams advance from Group C to the final round of World Cup qualifying.
Three points will almost guarantee that Canada qualifies for the final round of qualifying.
But obtaining those points won’t come easy in a stadium filled with 31,000 hostile football fanatics.