On the back of their national side's sparkling displays in reaching the North, Central America and Caribbean Zone's final six-team 'hexagonal' qualifying phase for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, Honduran fans have high hopes their team can make it to their second FIFA World Cup finals.
One of the main men behind the Catrachos' encouraging form has been Colombian-born coach Reinaldo Rueda. Brought in initially to steady the Honduran ship, Rueda has also been able to reignite the hopes and dreams of a country that has not appeared on world football's biggest stage for 26 years. As the next step of this challenge draws closer, the experienced strategist took time out to speak to FIFA.com.
A team effort
Right from the off, Rueda made it clear that Honduras' revival is not just down to his own contribution. "It all started from the top, when the directors [of the Honduran Football Association] put a serious project into place. I was fortunate enough to take on this challenge and from that point on there was agreement between the various sectors," explained Rueda. "The squad has responded very well, as have the media, the directors and the fans and since then we've been enjoying a period of harmony."
"On the coaching side we've brought our experience to the mix, carrying out an educational process for the whole of Honduras' footballing society. We've put in place a series of behaviours, habits and rules regarding training methodology and work guidelines that weren't there before," he continued.
"It involved months of meetings, playing matches and mentally preparing the players, and that also needed to be communicated to and reflected by the directors, media and the fans."
Not that Rueda is getting carried away with all the hype surrounding his team. "Honduras is a Central American country and we're all very emotional here. We need to control that emotion, regulate that fervour, that effervescence and take steady steps. We need to be certain about what we want if we are to move closer to our goal."
"We're all enjoying ourselves at the moment," said Rueda, lest one felt that the enthusiasm abounding in the streets of Honduras had passed him by. "We're on the right track but there are still nine months to go. It's a 'pregnancy' period that could see us reborn [on the world stage]."
Among the Catracho faithful, there are many who feel that the current generation of players is the best in the country's history. Further proof of this lies in those men at big European clubs, such as David Suazo at Benfica or Wilson Palacios, Tottenham Hotspur's new £15m signing from Wigan Athletic.
"All these words of praise are meaningless if we don't reach the World Cup, so the best generation to date remains the one that reached Spain 1982. We just want to emulate them," said Rueda, preferring to err on the side of caution. "That said, there's no doubt that this (European success) helps Honduran players reach another dimension, to believe in their own ability and improve their self-esteem. It's all very positive."
Even in the absence of the foreign-based stars, Honduras have maintained their winning habit. They are currently involved in the Copa de la UNCAF (Central American Football Union), where they have reached the semi-finals. "We're having a good tournament. We had a 20-day get-together in the United States and that's being reflected in this good step forward. This is the basis of our squad, we just need to add those seven players who are in Mexico and Europe," said Rueda.
The main objective for Rueda and Honduras is of course qualifying from the region's Hexagonal group phase. Prior to the Catrachos' opening clash away to Costa Rica, the experienced tactician gave his view on the other teams taking part: "El Salvador have had a very serious project on the go for the last three years. Trinidad have [Francisco] 'Doctor' Maturana in charge. Costa Rica, meanwhile, have appeared at recent World Cups and have experienced players. Mexico are powerful thanks to their infrastructure and clubs, while the United States are well organised and have European-based players."
So, how does Rueda plan to come out ahead of such a fiercely competitive field? "It will all depend on how seriously we continue to approach the hexagonal. We need to concentrate fully for each match, take each game very seriously, and really study our weaknesses, our strengths and those of our rivals."