2010 World Cup Preview: Honduras
FIFA world ranking: 35
Chile: June 16th
Spain: June 21st
Switzerland: June 25th
The Low Down
The wait is over. It took Honduras nearly three decades, but they find themselves back in the World Cup for only the second time in the team’s history. A must win victory over El Salvador secured their spot in the tournament, but just barely beating out Costa Rica in qualifying on goal differential.
Although grouped with favorites Spain, advancing is a realistic possibility for the Catrachos. With Spain all but assured a top-two finish, Honduras will have to battle it out with fellow group members Switzerland and Chile. Switzerland will be looking to advance in the second straight world cup as they saw themselves finish first in group G in Germany, where they were grouped with France. They would go on and lose their first elimination game however to the Ukraine. Chile will be returning to the World Cup for the first time since the 1998 games in France. They will be a tough opponent however, as they finished second behind Brazil in qualifying. The Chileans will have additional motivation as they will head into South Africa recovering from the devastating earthquake that claimed nearly 1,000 lives earlier this year.
Watch out for Wilson Palacios. The young mid-fielder who has impressed many watching him play for Tottenham in the English Premier League. He looks to be an essential piece of the Honduras team. Athletic and fearless, Palacios is a ball-winning midfielder with the ability to control the middle of the pitch. The down side to Palacios' game is his underwhelming ability to score. In 31 games in England this season, Palacios scored just once, and mustered only two goals in qualification for Honduras. The Catrachos need Palacios to not only be a vocal leader, but a productive one.
At the age of 36, Carlos Pavon is another player that will be critical if Honduras is to move on. Talented with his feet, Pavon is equally as deadly with his head, making him a lethal striker when he finds himself in the box. He led the Catrachos with seven goals in qualification and has the most goals in team history (57). Many feel that the combination of Pavon and fellow forward David Suazo could be a combination that not only surprises many, but pushes Honduras into the knock-out stage. The issue with Pavon however is his habit of disappearing on the big stages. While playing for 14 club teams during his career, Pavon failed to make a big impact when playing against the notable teams in Mexico and Europe.
Strengths and weaknesses
The Hondurans will be a tough opponent to score on. Conceding only eleven goals in qualification, opponents will have to work to get the ball past the defense and goalie Noel Valladares. The Catrachos can also score with the rest of them. Collecting 17 goals during qualification, Honduras was just two shy of the United States’ total.
Honduras’ real problem will be their ability to play on the world stage. Most of their squad has never played for a premier club team let alone play in front of the entire world. Pavon and others must not shy away from the limelight and play their game. The other worry is age. Veteran leaders like Pavon and captain Amado Guevara are both in their late 30’s. If Honduras is to progress they need their veterans to keep up their energy level as well as see some of their youth blossom.
In a perfect world
If all goes according to plan, the Catrachos will advance to play in the elimination rounds. Wilson Palacios will outgrow his poor shooting habits and Carlos Pavon will lead the group in scoring. The combination of experience and youth will propel Honduras and they will win at least one of their matches in the elimination rounds. Such a performance would help erase the 27 years of disappointment for the over seven million Hondurans.
Spain should progress with ease. That leaves one spot. The Swiss look like a formidable team but that doesn’t count out Honduras (E.g. Ghana in 2006). Honduras has the weapons and will not let their first shot in the world cup in three decades be a dud. I see them opening strong with a win over Chile to open the games off. Spain will knock them off, and that will leave them with a decisive final game with Switzerland. In the end, Honduras will progress. If that is the case, they would most likely face Portugal in the second round, and that is where their journey will end.