Tegucigalpa, Nov 25 (DPA) Honduras waited for 27 years to secure their return to a World Cup, and they hold great hopes for South Africa 2010.
During this time – close to three decades – generations of football-lovers in the Central American country accumulated frustrations on the pitch.
This year, a serious political crisis – complete with a military coup and a significant degree of international isolation – added to the pressure on players, but they shook it off by qualifying for the World Cup in style, without even having to engage in a playoff.
Qualification came almost unexpectedly, as a most welcome gift, on Oct 14. An injury-time goal from the United States against Costa Rica handed Honduras their longed-for return to the prestigious global event.
Their particular “curse” was over. Many thousands of Hondurans poured out onto the streets to celebrate qualification for a World Cup, an achievement that over 60 percent of the country’s 7.7 million people had never experienced before.
The leader of the transitional government, President Roberto Micheletti, declared the next day a public holiday and thanked God, who, he said, had brought the luck.
Those thousands of people who enjoyed the holiday after the qualification are now eagerly looking forward to South Africa 2010.
Honduras, nicknamed “Los Catrachos”, only ever played one World Cup, Spain 1982. They drew two matches – including one against the host – and lost the third, against Yugoslavia.
Next year, the Honduran side coached by Colombian Reinaldo Rueda, is hoping to reach the second round of a World Cup for the first time.
Players and officials alike, however, are conscious of their limited potential on paper, and stress the importance of keeping up the discipline and humble work that gave Honduras a berth in South Africa.
Unlike in Spain 1982, many Honduran players are now active in Europe.
The team’s greatest star, striker David Suazo, plays for Inter Milan. Tottenham Hotspur’s Wilson Palacios also stands out, as do Wigan Athletic’s Maynor Figueroa and Hendry Thomas. Others play in smaller European clubs, and some in North America’s Major League Soccer (MLS) and in Mexico, with a few active in Honduras.
Rueda is hoping that the experience of those who play in demanding European leagues can help Honduras play in South Africa without an inferiority complex.
Reinaldo Rueda, 52, is a very experienced coach. He managed several Colombian clubs before moving on to Colombia’s youth national teams, and from then to the senior side in 2002. With his native country, he failed to attain qualification for the 2006 World Cup.
Rueda was hired – alongside the coaching team that had accompanied him in Colombia – as Honduras’ coach in 2007 and had become a national hero even before attaining qualification.
He is working hard with Honduran football officials to strengthen the country’s junior teams, with a view to making progress more permanent, and Honduras had representatives in the Under-20 and Under-17 World Cups this year.
David Suazo may not get to play regularly with Inter Milan, but he is the main pillar on which the Honduran team rests. The 30-year-old striker, born in San Pedro Sula, played for the Honduran club Olimpia before moving to Cagliari in 1999.
In 2006 he shared with Brazilian superstar Kaka the title of Best Foreign Player in the Serie A, and in 2007 he joined Inter, amid some confusion because AC Milan had also announced the signing.
He has gained international experience in the Under-20 World Cup and the 2000 Olympics, but while he proved his goalscoring capacity in both events his efforts were not enough for Hondurans to make it past the first round.
Los Catrachos; La Bicolor; La H
FIFA affiliation: 1946
Highest FIFA ranking: 20 – September 2002
Lowest FIFA ranking: 95 – November 1998
Previous World Cup appearances: 1 (1982)
Best World Cup performance: Group Stage
Date qualified for finals: Oct 14, 2009