As the upcoming Mexico-USA clash hogs the headlines, 12 August will offer football fans yet another classic in the much-anticipated Clasico Centroamericano between Costa Rica and Honduras. Rodrigo Kenton's high-flying Ticos travel to San Pedro Sula hoping to keep hold of first-place in the hexagonal, as well as lay hands on bragging rights in the traditional meeting between Central America's top two teams.
"There's not a lot of time to rest for us," Kenton, whose Costa Rica stretched Mexico in the semi-final of the recent CONCACAF Gold Cup, told FIFA.com. "At this point they're all tough games, but our meetings with Honduras are always extra intense. We'll just have to focus and get back to the form we had that brought us to first place."
The all-Central American affair at the intimidating Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano will be the 50th meeting between the two neighbours, the first an 8-0 drubbing by the Ticos back in 1930. In all, the Costa Ricans have won 19 to Honduras' 14 (with 16 draws) and have generally outshone the Hondurans of late, reaching the last two FIFA World Cup™ finals and firmly establishing themselves as the region's third team behind USA and Mexico.
Kenton and Co are fresh back from the 10th biennial Gold Cup in the USA, where an experimental, youthful team pushed Mexico to a penalty shoot-out in the semi-finals in Chicago. The side, led by elegant young playmaker Celso Borges and without rested ace Bryan Ruiz, was one assembled by the 54-year-old Kenton with an eye to 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifying, clearly the first order of business in the boss' reckoning. "For us the hexagonal [final qualifying round] is the most important thing. We are in first place and we want to keep distance between us and the rest," said the former Deportivo Saprissa player. "I gave a few chances to a few new players in the Gold Cup, but our eyes were always on qualifying."
The coach, assistant to Bora Milutinovic when Costa Rica reached the second round of Italy 1990 in their debut at the world showpiece, did admit that the fine performances put in by some of his youngsters in the Gold Cup will give him a selection headache. "After the way Dennis Marshall, Keylor Navas and Celso Borges played, I will have more choices when we head to Honduras," the former youth and Olympic boss went on. "It makes problems for me when a new player comes to life, but these are the kinds of problems a coach loves to have. We'll have a nice combination of players as some of the younger guys got a lot of valuable experience in the Gold Cup."
Regardless of changes here and there, the Costa Rica starting line-up in San Pedro Sula is likely to look much like the one that defeated the USA 3-1 back in June, with veteran skipper Walter Centeno leading the way alongside livewire Belgian-based midfield sensation Ruiz. The Ticos, who have 12 points from their five games played so far in the final round, have not lost to Honduras since 2005. However, the Catrachos are fresh off their own semi-final run at the Gold Cup, also with an experimental and youthful squad, and are keen to reach their first World Cup finals since their debut in 1982.
Kenton knows the quality of the third-place Honduras, who beat Mexico in the previous round and will have a returning armada of overseas-based standouts like Spurs midfielder Wilson Palacios, Maynor Figueroa of Wigan and Mexico-based marksman Carlos Pavon in the side on the 12th.
"Honduras are a strong team physically, and they are always difficult at home," he concluded. "They're technical and they move the ball around very well. We'll need to be aware of that."