Participants at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, Honduras kicked off their CONCACAF Gold Cup campaign yesterday with a goalless draw against Guatemala. No longer able to count on iconic figures of the recent past such as David Suazo and Carlos Pavon, this year’s continental competition is set to test the mettle of a new-look Catrachos’ side still in transition.
What's more, the clash with Guatemala was also incoming coach Luis Fernando Suarez’s first competitive game at the helm. The Colombian supremo, arguably best known globally for guiding Ecuador to the Round of 16 at Germany 2006, took time out to speak to FIFA.com about his team’s chances and his verdict on the tournament so far.
Despite never previously having coached in the North, Central American and Caribbean Zone, Suarez is very optimistic in terms of Honduras’s potential for success: “I think that they have taken a big step forward within Central America.
"What the previous set-up achieved was very important, because qualifying for South Africa shifted us up a notch. Now you can see more of the players have international experience and, though we’re still some way off Mexico and the United States, we’re on the right track.”
It shouldn't be strange for us to challenge for the title. We have to get this into the players’ heads and make it clear how much responsibility they have.
That said, Los Catrachos’ boss is not hiding from the major changes that have hit his squad, and admits that he has already been working on solutions during his first few weeks in charge. “The major generational changes have been in attacking areas, with Suazo and Pavon both important losses,” Suarez conceded.
“But I believe there are new talents capable of replacing them. Carlo Costly missed the World Cup through injury but he’s now ready to come back. And there’s fresh blood coming through in the likes of Jerry Bengtson, who’d not been given a chance before, and Eddy Hernandez, who comes in from the U-20 side.”
And for those unfamiliar with the latter duo, Suarez is happy to give his verdict on the two newcomers: “Bengtson will be a starter. He’s a player who’s in great shape physically and technically. He’s scored an enormous amount of goals in the Honduran league, so now it’s time for him to prove himself at international level.
"We like what we see in Eddy and for that reason, we’ll be getting him involved bit by bit, to see how he progresses. We’re not going to be as demanding of him as we are of Jerry, who’s much more experienced.”
Comprehensive friendly defeats in China PR and Korea Republic, 3-0 and 4-0 respectively, cast shadows over Honduras’s Gold Cup preparations. Though Suarez was only at those games as an observer, and the fact his first match in the dugout ended in a 2-2 draw with El Salvador, he still stated his side “are hoping to be crowned champions” on US soil.
“I want us to win all our remaining games and with it the title. Of course, whichever way results go we’ll evaluate our performance and we’ll know if we’re satisfied or not. This Gold Cup is going to give us a lot of info with regard to what we’re looking for from the players and how we rate them. The plan is to get this era off to a good start and build on solid foundations.”
He’s a player who’s in great shape physically and technically. He’s scored an enormous amount of goals in the Honduran league, so now it’s time for him to prove himself at international level.
However, despite Suarez’s bullish attitude, it remains the case that La H have never previously won the continental title – a situation that Honduran football fans feel does not tally with the talent their country has had had at its disposal.
“We’re in debt to the supporters and the public, who want to see something different," he said. "From now on we have to think that achieving it is possible: it shouldn’t be strange for us to challenge for the title. We have to get this into the players’ heads and make it clear how much responsibility they have. As always, we’re going to keep trying to control games and put our faith in our biggest qualities: speed and strength.
Asked finally if the changes to the playing and coaching staff would impact on Los Catrachos’ traditional style of play, Suarez replied: “Of course the tactics will change slightly depending on the circumstances, but we’ll always be committed to attack.”