Honduras on the rise

(Article first featured on Lovely Left Foot)

The ramifications of Honduras’ qualification for the 2010 World Cup extended far beyond the boundaries of the football field.  Their dramatic 1-0 win against rivals El Salvador, coupled with Costa Rica surrendering a two nil lead against the USA, saw Honduras qualify for their first World Cup since 1982. More importantly though, the wave of elation that swept the nation played an important role in helping to diffuse the tense political situation in the country following the coup d’etat in 2009, as explained in this blog by Paul Fletcher.

Pitted against eventual champions Spain, Bielsa’s wonderful Chile & a resilient Switzerland, Los Catrachos were never likely to progress beyond the group stages in South Africa.  But despite returning home without scoring a goal, two spirited defeats and a draw against Switzerland were far from an embarrassing showing for the Central Americans.

Their quest for a second consecutive World Cup appearance hasn’t got off to the smoothest start though. An opening defeat to Panama and two draws saw them needing a result going into their final game of round three.  The Hondurans emphatically answered any critics though with an 8-1 destruction of Canada in San Pedro Sula, thus booking their place in the final hexagonal stage of the CONCACAF qualification for Brazil 2014.

With Mexico and USA shoe-ins to qualify for Brazil, that realistically leaves just one automatic place available to Honduras if they are to achieve the historic feat of back to back World Cup appearances.  Costa Rica and Panama, who pushed them hard in the previous round, are likely to be the other nations battling it out for a top three finish.   A play-off against the Oceania winner awaits whoever finishes fourth but all the sides will be looking to avoid a potentially tricky clash against, most likely, a stubborn New Zealand side.  Certainly, were Honduras to finish third again, it would mark a shifting dynamic in the Central American football and perhaps suggest even that they could challenge the traditional regional powerhouses.

Although the large majority of their players are still based locally, Honduras have a growing number of players plying their trade abroad.  Maynor Figueroa of Wigan and Wilson Palacios, now at Stoke, are familiar faces in the Premier League and left back Emilio Izaguirre has been gaining plaudits for his performances at Celtic.  A number turn out regularly in the MLS such as experienced defender Victor Bernardez (San Jose Earthquakes), midfielder Roger Espinoza (Sporting Kansas City) and forward Jerry Bengtson (New England Revolution, below) and this has undoubtedly helped raise the level of the national team.

The latter two were also part of the Olympic squad that reached the quarter-finals this summer in London. Many had the Hondurans as whipping boys of Group D but they proved to be one of the surprise packages of the tournament, memorably beating Spain, drawing against the impressive Japanese and giving Brazil a massive shock in the quarter-finals.  

This overachievement suggests that Honduras have a good crop of youngsters coming through to build on their success and could, come 2014, be challenging for a place in the senior side.  Alongside the aforementioned Figueroa, Espinoza and Bengtson, the likes of midfielders Mario Martinez and Andy Najar (MLS Rookie of the Year in 2010) had decent tournaments and look to have bright futures ahead of them.  Star man Roger ‘RoRo’ Rojas was injured for the Olympics but is another great prospect whilst 19-year-old forward Anthony Lozano is currently on the books of Valencia.  Younger still is 17-year-old striker Junior Lacayo – a shock call up for the recent qualifiers by coach Luis Suarez (not that one!) and who is reported to have scored more than 120 goals for his club Victoria at youth level. 

Honduras still have to negotiate a complicated hexagonal qualification stage – due to start early 2013 – in order to keep their World Cup dream alive but if they are able to build on their impressive Olympic campaign and usher through some of the young talent at their disposal then they have a great shot of making it to Brazil 2014.