Whatever unfolds for Honduras in South Africa during the coming weeks, they have already achieved something special according to their coach Reinaldo Rueda.
By qualifying for the second FIFA World Cup™ in their history, the central Americans have already given their countrymen something to celebrate during a period of political upheaval last year. Now their Colombian coach is hoping they can bring further cheer and fulfil his target of progress from Group H, despite a daunting-looking challenge. Recalling the Hondurans' first successful qualifying campaign since 1982, the 53-year-old trainer said: "Our team did a huge amount to help the country. Families were there with one flag and one shirt – the national-team shirt and that was a positive thing for Honduras," he told FIFA.
Honduras secured their place in South Africa in dramatic fashion on the last day of CONCACAF qualifying when Costa Rica's surrender of a two-goal lead against USA allowed them to snatch third place on goal difference, thanks to a 1-0 win over El Salvador. Their squad includes players with experience of Europe's biggest leagues – Maynor Figueroa, Wilson Palacios and Hendry Thomas play in the Premier League, David Suazo and Edgar Alvarez in Serie A – yet for Rueda, their biggest strength is the "camaraderie and friendship among the players". He explained: "They are a very good, disciplined group, very receptive."
That said, they have had some underwhelming warm-up results since the turn of the year, with just one win - 3-1 against USA in January. After subsequent losses to Turkey and Venezuela, they closed their preparations with three friendly matches in Austria, recording draws with Belarus and Azerbaijan before going down 3-0 to Romania on 5 June. But Rueda has maintained an upbeat note about his squad's build-up – particularly the stay at their training base in Austria. "We played five games at a really good level. Those five games were important and these last 25 days have been positive in order to establish some integration and harmony within the whole group."
Honduras recorded two draws and a defeat on their previous FIFA World Cup appearance in 1982. Holding hosts Spain was the highlight of that campaign but they will have their work cut out repeating that result against the European champions this time. Before that, however, they open against Chile next Wednesday and will later complete their Group H programme against Switzerland. Rueda said: "We have three very strong rivals with great track records and a lot of World Cup experience. The three teams have very different styles and different systems. Chile attack with great determination and aggression and have a great team spirit. Spain are at their peak after some fantastic work over several years, and Switzerland have a new approach, a strong one with an attacking focus."
The challenge is daunting but Honduras, with their physical power and never-say-die attitude, will not be pushovers according to Rueda, who is not giving up hope of a second-round berth. "We have a squad with great variety and play good football. Let's just hope we are focused enough to get what we want. With the opportunity we've had to work in training, and the players and the experience they have, we're going to play every game with a real determination to get to the next round."