Much-respected in the CONCACAF region, Honduras have ramped up the form in the run-up to their regional qualifying campaign for the FIFA World Cup South Africa 2010™. A significant upturn in confidence and a string of impressive results have seen the Catrachos jump seven places in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking for the month of February, an indication that the Central Americans are moving in the right direction.
The bump in the global pecking order also sees the Hondurans roar into the regional top three, sliding in just behind mighty Mexico (1) and CONCACAF Gold Cup champions USA (2). Currently ahead of Germany 2006 participants Costa Rica and Trinidad and Tobago, Honduras are exactly where they want to be as they get set to take steps toward reaching their first world finals since 1982.
Their emphatic 2-0 friendly win over South American powers Paraguay on 7 February was the culmination point of the Catrachos' recent upward trajectory as the US, Mexico, Costa Rica, Jamaica and Trinidad all failed to win their friendlies that same month. Captain Amado Guevara and Poland-based Carlos Costly scored the goals against the Paraguayans in San Pedro Sula, sparking belief among fans in the football-mad country that 2008 might just be their year. Honduras have not lost in four friendly matches stretching back into 2007.
With a current position of 43rd on the global ranking, the Hondurans now find themselves ahead of such notable names as Nigeria, Senegal, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Hungary. The win over Paraguay, which came despite the absence of a clutch of stars such as David Suazo and Wilson Palacios, drew rave reviews in the nation's media with El Heraldo running the headline: 'Honduras beat Paraguay with the beautiful game.'
National team boss Reinaldo Rueda of Colombia will be pleased at his side's improvements of late, seeing as Honduras' first qualifying hurdle for South Africa 2010 comes in June. the side will take on the winner of the preliminary series between the Dominican Republic and a wildly resurgent Puerto Rico (who jumped up 28 points in the World Ranking last month).
Should the Hondurans substantiate their favourites' tag and move on, they would be placed into one of three groups of four alongside the other survivors of the previous round. CONCACAF qualifying then concludes with the six group winners and runners-up moving on to contest home-away series in a league system and decide the region's 3.5 slots in South Africa.
Glory days return?
Honduras have reached the FIFA World Cup finals only once previously, in 1982 in Spain. Despite a fairly impressive past and a proud reputation in the region for the two-time UNCAF champions and once-Copa America runners-up, their most-recent qualifying campaign ahead of Germany 2006 ended in huge disappointment. They failed to even reach the 'hexagonal' second group stage after suffering an almighty goal drought.
Rueda and his men are sure to keenly rely on the attacking prowess of Inter Milan's Suazo in the upcoming qualifiers. With blinding pace and a nose for goal, the San Pedro Sula-native will be the main goal threat for the Catrachos this time out.
Up front, Suazo, 'The Panther', will also have
significant aid in the form of veteran Carlos Pavon, Julio Cesar de
Leon (Genoa) and Costly (FC Balchatow). The man providing Suazo and
co with their chances will be Guevara, the captain and most-capped
Honduran of all-time. His guile and vision make him one of the most
renowned playmakers in North, Central America and the Caribbean.
Honduran improvements are not restricted to the senior national team, either. The country's U-23 team on Thursday beat neighbours Guatemala to qualify for the Beijing Olympics.