Having opted to rest his main men and use predominantly domestic-based players and up-and-coming talents at the recent CONCACAF Gold Cup, Honduras head coach Reinaldo Rueda must have been delighted with the results. The youthful Catrachos went all the way to the semi-finals of the regional showpiece where they lost narrowly to host nation USA, who were themselves beaten in the final by Mexico.
Yet despite the welcome boost that a successful experiment brings, the Colombian strategist knows it would be premature to leave his country's big names out of the vital 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifier against table-topping Costa Rica on 12 August in San Pedro Sula. As a result, Tottenham Hotspur's steely midfield man Wilson Palacios, Parma's gifted Julio de Leon and captain Amado Guevara of Toronto FC all return to join fellow established performers such as Carlos Pavon and Carlos Costly.
"Of course it's not the same playing with them as it is without them," Costly told FIFA.com during the Gold Cup, where he was one of the few Honduran veterans involved. "Palacios, 'Rambo' (De Leon) and Guevara are all great players and of course they give the team something extra," added the forward, who plays his football in Poland for GKS Belchatow.
And though Rueda has been unable to call on David Suazo, who is yet to regain full fitness after a niggling leg injury, the Inter Milan front man's absence has opened the door for Gold Cup revelation George Welcome. Foreign-based players aside, joining Welcome in the squad for the Costa Rica clash are ten other members of the Gold Cup party.
"The players who were at the Gold Cup with us have been taking part in specialised training programmes, and they are familiar with our style of play," explained Los Catrachos' assistant coach Alexis Mendoza. "They were called up for this match as a reward for their efforts during the tournament."
The mood in the camp is one of unbridled optimism, despite the fact that their Tico visitors are five points and two places above them in the North, Central America and Caribbean Zone standings after five games played. "It's a vital game, no doubt about it," said Mendoza, whose team could improve their tally to ten points and cut Costa Rica's advantage to two with a win. "We've got the belief that we can pick up a positive result and take a significant step forward in our bid to qualify for the World Cup."
Also backing the Hondurans to claim the spoils is veteran coach Jose de la Paz, who guided Los Catrachos to a place at Spain 1982. "Honduras are an experienced side and should beat Costa Rica, while they've only beaten us once at home in the last 40 years or so," said De la Paz, before outlining just why he feels his confidence is well placed. "I think that we'll win the game because we've got a better team and will have the fans behind us, which has been decisive in the past. If you go through each team one by one, there's no doubt that the Honduran players are better."