For Honduras stalwart Victor Bernardez, there was no mystery why his side were able to secure qualification for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. “It was the reward for two-and-a-half years of work with a coaching staff that succeeded in changing attitudes,” he said.
“That change came thanks to the coach,” explained the Anderlecht defender, shifting praise on to Reinaldo Rueda rather than accepting it for himself and his team-mates. “Before him, no national coach paid attention to the players in the way that he does.”
Brought on board after the team’s failure to reach Germany 2006, the Colombian trainer’s methods have clearly worked wonders and Los Catrachos are now looking forward to gracing the global stage for the first time in 28 years, with their only previous finals appearance having come at Spain 1982.
The difference between success and failure came down to a matter of seconds, however. Honduras’s fate played itself out on 14 October, but while Carlos Pavon earned the team a vital 1-0 victory at the Estadio Cuscatlan in El Salvador, the fact that Costa Rica were beating the United States in their game spelt disaster. Anxiously following that match, the fans back in Honduras could only fear the worst until American defender Jonathan Bornstein equalised deep into added time to guarantee a place for Los Catrachos alongside the United States and Mexico next summer.
Victory and responsibility
“It was God who gave us this joy, which is the only one the people of Honduras have been able to experience during these difficult times,” added Bernardez, who was injured for the meeting with El Salvador and had to “follow the game on the internet and on the phone to Honduras. I didn’t sleep all night. Knowing that I’m going to play at a World Cup is fantastic.”
Anyone doubting the importance of that qualification to a country in the grip of political crisis had only to watch David Suazo cross the Cuscatlan pitch on his knees as promised and witness the tears of coach Rueda on the sidelines. “The problems affect all the players,” said the former CD Motagua player. “We have even more responsibility towards our people and our families. I’ve had people tell me they’re ready to re-mortgage their house to come and support us in South Africa.”
All that remains now is to see who Honduras are destined to meet in their pool, with the draw taking place in Cape Town on 4 December. As far as Bernardez is concerned, the dream would be to face England and his defensive idols Rio Ferdinand and John Terry. “We all want to play a big team to show the whole world that we haven’t come to South Africa on holiday,” he said. “We’re going there to be the surprise packages.”
Best side ever
This ambitious generation of players evolved into a side to be reckoned with during the qualifiers, where they combined solidity at home with a maturity away from their San Pedro Sula base. “We’re now able to control a match, which was lacking previously,” said Bernardez, who has collected 36 caps for his country. “The team is more mature thanks to the players based in Europe. We never lost our calm away from home, even when we were trailing.”
Those qualities could well see this team fare better than their predecessors in 1982, who drew twice and lost one of their group games in Spain. “The current side is the best in the history of Honduran football,” said Bernardez. “The quality of the individuals concerned is better and the coach has introduced a good mix between experienced players and hungry youngsters, while up front Pavon and Suazo are without equal in the CONCACAF region.”
Reaching the FIFA World Cup finals could potentially bring about an era of stability as well. “I hope this qualification is a starting point and that this coaching staff continues working for a long time,” added the 24-year-old, who also wants to leave a lasting impression, while setting an example for his compatriots. “Before me, no player from the Honduran championship had ever come to Belgium. Now the people back home follow Anderlecht’s results.” They will be following Los Catrachos’ performances even more closely come June 2010.