Honduras hotshots could be hazardous for World Cup opponents
A 16-goal strike partnership in qualifying, an unprecedented away win in Mexico’s Estadio Azteca and a manager with the famous name Luis Suarez, are just some reasons why humble Honduras will not simply roll over at the World Cup.
Granted, La H are the rank 1500/1 outsiders with Coral to defy all odds and common sense by taking the trophy in Brazil, but that is not their mission. Their first priority is to end a 32-year wait for a goal at the finals.
Honduras last scored at a World Cup against Northern Ireland in 1982, but two of their current strikers made massive contributions to their second successful qualification campaign in a row.
Former Birmingham City flop Carlo Costly, who missed the 2010 finals through injury, got seven, while Jerry Bengtson (New England Revolution) led the way by netting nine.
To put just how prolific this pair have been in perspective, their combined total of 16 is double the amount USA top-scorer Clint Dempsey managed in the CONCACAF qualifying section.
La H head coach Suarez has steered his side to Brazil on merit. They piped Mexico to the final automatic North and Central American berth by beating the established football nation is their own backyard.
It is no accident that both Bengtson and Costly converted chances in the cauldron that is the Azteca. Suarez sometimes pairs them together in a 4-4-2 or brings one off the bench after beginning with a more conservative formation, as he did during this famous victory.
Bengtson also hit a hat-trick against Canada and netted the winner when Honduras beat the USA 2-1 at home. One-time Monaco loanee Georgie Welcome, Jerry Palacios – yes, he is Stoke City midfielder Wilson’s brother – and Roger Rojas provide backup in attack.
Wigan Athletic has been the biggest route taken by Honduran footballers to enjoy top-flight European football. The likes of midfielder Wilson Palacios (Stoke) and international centurion Maynor Figueroa (Hull) built reputations at the DW Stadium sufficient to engineer moves to other Premier League clubs.
Juan Carlos Garcia, who is LA H’s understudy left back behind Celtic star Emilio Izaguirre, and the versatile Roger Espinoza remain at the Latics. Victor Bernandez (San Jose Earthquakes) is the experienced centre back option to partner Figueroa.
Rangers utility man Arnold Peralta can operate in the holding role or at right back, and may be competing with a third Palacios brother – Jerry – for the latter spot.
Marvin Chavez (Colorado Rapids), Mario Martinez and Andy Najar (Anderlecht) are in the running for wide berths alongside Oscar Boniek Garcia. In goal, veteran stopper Noel Valladares, who turns 37 before the finals, is their number one.
About half the Honduras squad remains the same as the one sent to South Africa without any success four years ago. Like this contingent, however, Colombian coach Suarez has been to a World Cup before.
He took Ecuador into the knockout phase, but then immediately lost to England in the last 16 at Germany 2006. Suarez will meet his former side, along with hot qualifications favourites France and Switzerland, in Group E this time around.
If nothing else, it provides an interesting sub-plot to what on paper looks to be one of the least attractive fixtures at the Brazil finals. Suarez’s current side are massive at 25/1 to win their pool, but 11/2 to stunningly repeat what he managed with Ecuador eight years ago by qualifying again.
Naturally, La H are heavily odds-on for a group stage exit at 1/10, but do not discount them. Les Bleus often implode at tournament finals, while scoring goals is not Switzerland’s forte.
Suarez has taken an unfashionable team, not too dissimilar from Honduras, through what looked plain sailing for European nations, in then-hosts Germany and neighbours Poland, already, and that counts for something. Back him to plot that course again, by exiting the competition in the last 16 at 7/1.