Group H: Honduras
They knocked out the lights of Costa Rica and Jamaica in qualifying, says Jamie Trecker, but Honduras have an uphill struggle in South Africa.
Tiny Honduras is better known for its Byzantine politics than for its football. In fact, a key World Cup qualifying match against the USA was nearly called off last year after a coup ousted the sitting president, plunging the country into a constitutional crisis.
The match eventually did take place as scheduled and the Hondurans lost, 3-2, apparently ending their World Cup dream. But thanks to two big pieces of help from the Americans, Honduras qualified for their first World Cup since 1982, and only their second appearance ever.
The first bit of help happened 14 years ago when MLS was formed in the United States. While that league may not be the answer to USA player development issues, thereÃ¢ÂÂs no doubt that countries like Honduras have seen their player pool widened as MLS has continued to attract Latin American talent.
The second came on the final night of qualifying: a fortuitous and unlikely goal, scored very late against Costa Rica by American defender Jonathan Bornstein. That 94th minute tally allowed Honduras to slip into the final automatic berth Ã¢ÂÂ and made Bornstein perhaps the first Jewish folk hero in the Central American country.
Costa Rica, which once had led the six-team group and seemed certain for South Africa, wound up losing the play-off to Uruguay. ItÃ¢ÂÂs hard to argue that the same fate would not have awaited Honduras had it come to that.
Even with that helping hand (or foot) itÃ¢ÂÂs hard to argue that Honduras wonÃ¢ÂÂt just be making up numbers this summer. They qualified out of a region that is mediocre at best, and struggled at that. In a group with Spain and Chile, theyÃ¢ÂÂre going to have to put in some otherworldly performances to get through.
Strengths Ã¢ÂÂ¨This is the best Honduran team ever. Sadly, thatÃ¢ÂÂs like saying youÃ¢ÂÂre watching the best Eurovision song contest ever. Honduras are a defence-first side, playing at times with seven men behind the ball. Nonetheless, they do have a few guys that can hurt the opposition up top. Carlos Pavon may be 36 but be he doesnÃ¢ÂÂt act it, and with Wilson Palacios rampaging forward, he and Carlo Costly provide a threat. Fortunately, an injury hasn't proved too Costly and Palacios and David Suazo are also on the mend.
Weaknesses Age, and heart. The former they cannot help; the latter is troubling. HondurasÃ¢ÂÂ heads tend to drop when they go behind. Do that at the World Cup and theyÃ¢ÂÂll be packing their bags early.
Interesting fact Ã¢ÂÂ¨A loss in the qualifying round for the 1970 World Cup ignited a six-day war against neighbouring El Salvador. It is known today as, simply, the Ã¢ÂÂFootball WarÃ¢ÂÂ, because it was sparked by riots in the aftermath of the game. (The war was actually fought over convoluted issues of immigration.)
The Coach: Reinaldo RuedoÃ¢ÂÂ¨The Colombian has been in charge of the side since 2006, and has helped transform Los Catrachos into a rising power in a weak region. Interestingly enough, Rueda never played professional football: his reputation was secured during his tenure with ColombiaÃ¢ÂÂs youth teams, which he rebuilt in the early noughties. Unfortunately, Rueda has long been in dispute with the Honduran Federation over unpaid wages, an all too common occurrence in Central America.
Key Player: Wilson Palacios The highest-profile player could rise from top Prem talent to world-class player if he takes his Spurs form into the World Cup.
Probable Team (4-4-2): Valladares; Figueroa, J Palacios, Chavez, Izaguirre; Sabillon, Guevara, W Palacios, De Leon; Costly, Pavon
FixturesChile, June 16, 12.30pm, NelspruitSpain, June 21, 7.30pm, JohannesburgSwitzerland, June 25, 7.30pm, Mangaung/Bloemfontein
Qualified 3rd in CONCACAFÃ¢ÂÂ¨Ã¢ÂÂ¨Costa Rica (A) 0-2Ã¢ÂÂ¨Trinidad and Tobago (A) 1-1Ã¢ÂÂ¨Ã¢ÂÂ¨Mexico (H) 3-1Ã¢ÂÂ¨Ã¢ÂÂ¨USA (A) 1-2Ã¢ÂÂ¨Ã¢ÂÂ¨El Salvador (A) 1-0Ã¢ÂÂ¨Ã¢ÂÂ¨USA (H) 2-3Ã¢ÂÂ¨Mexico (A) 0-1Ã¢ÂÂ¨Ã¢ÂÂ¨Trinidad and Tobago (H) 4-1Ã¢ÂÂ¨Ã¢ÂÂ¨Costa Rica (H) 4-0Ã¢ÂÂ¨Ã¢ÂÂ¨El Salvador (H) 1-0
World Cup record1982 1st Round