San Pedro Sula: In sapping conditions, the Socceroos began their preparations to face Honduras in their final World Cup qualifying play-off on Tuesday. Sixteen players, many of whom arrived the same day, took part in a light training session at the Estadio Francisco Morazan in San Pedro Sula.
It provided a symptom of what's to come in Friday's match against the Central Americans and the difficulty of winning the dual battle against the physical "Catrachos" and the taxing tropical climate. They had barely completed their warm-ups before the signs began to appear. Those who had arrived the night before were put through a more rigorous passing and movement drill by assistant coach Ante Milicic and their light blue jerseys turned shades darker in a matter of minutes, as the likes of Josh Risdon and Craig Goodwin instantly became drenched in sweat.
Those who arrived later were spared a higher load but were given a taste of the days ahead. Goalkeepers Mat Ryan and Danny Vukovic went through their drills as per normal to test their handling as their fingers slipped around in their gloves in the heat and humidity in San Pedro Sula.
For the better part of an hour, they moved about on an already soft pitch that was heavier than usual in the tail-end of the wet season of north-western Honduras. But as far as settings go, it was a postcard scenery.
Beneath the backdrop of the Merendon mountain ranges and nestled in the more affluent and commercial district of the city's north sits the charming, classical Latin American stadium. A modest concrete wall separates it from the street while the caged provisions within the stands make for a confronting first glimpse. In the eyes of some, the near-80-year-old Estadio Morazan is crying out for a touch of paint and some care, but any more than that would ruin its rich and vibrant character. Steep tiers on its three stands are built for football. The seats that remain are screwed flat into the stands. VIP boxes are segregated completely from the public section and are two-tiered in classic South American style. The "populares" stands behind the goal are perfectly tailored for vibrant, active supporters.
It's the home of the local giants, Real Espana - a name that could not be more reflective of the nation's colonial past. However, the popularity of the 18,000-capacity arena demands the nation not completely abandon its use. Honduras used the venue in a recent qualifier against Costa Rica.
The enthusiasm from the local press didn't wane despite their displeasure over Australia's arrival the night before. A dozen or so journalists hovered around the stands of the Morazan hoping to gain insight into a team they've become fascinated by while holding the faint hope of interviewing coaches and players. "Where is Tim Cahill?" was the most frequently asked question from the locals, who've adopted Australia's enthusiasm for the evergreen striker, while one hovered around with a replica World Cup trophy attempting to gain photos with the team and officials.
Others lined up outside, missing the entrance time for Australia's first session after coming immediately after Honduras' training at the match venue, Estadio Olimpico, in the city's southern suburbs.
They were held back by security that was stringent yet customary. Police guarded the entrance, the players' tunnel and a small handful stood pitchside for assurance rather than necessity. Of all those in attendance, the police were the least busy. There wasn't the slightest concern of a breach coming from an unruly mob of supporters. If anything, mosquitos presented the only threat to the wellbeing of the Socceroos during a muggy session held immediately after a light afternoon downpour and finishing minutes before sunset.
The players were briskly walked off the field and on to the bus at the end of the session, returning to the team hotel with the assistance of a police escort that appeared a formality rather than a necessity.