Another decisive matchday has passed in the North, Central America and Caribbean Zone's qualifying phase for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, leaving just six teams to battle it out for the region's three and a half places at the global showpiece.
Perhaps the biggest news of the night was Honduras' victory over Mexico, a result that dominated the headlines in the next morning's papers in both countries. While the Honduran press revelled in the win in San Pedro Sula, their Azteca counterparts failed to disguise their frustration with El Tri's display.
Wave of enthusiasm
"We forced the Mexicans to their knees once more," blared La Prensa in their morning edition, before adding: "Don't rub your eyes, it really happened. It seems like a dream to us but it isn't. Wake up, it's real life."
Nor did the rest of Honduras' most popular dailies vary much from this theme of unbridled joy. El Heraldo opted for the headline, "We've sealed our ticket for the Hexagonal [final qualifying round]", before describing the exuberant celebrations that erupted on the streets of San Pedro Sula and the capital Tegucigalpa after the final whistle.
Praise was widespread for the team's biggest name, David Suazo, who had this to say after the 1-0 success: "I hope that the Mexicans will respect us from now on after this result," said the Benfica front-man. "I think that we're the national team who are on the up, the team that makes us feel good. And for all our Mexican friends, this match will give them plenty to say. They'll have enough to talk about for a week."
Coach Reinaldo Rueda also took the time to give his verdict on the match. "The team showed personality and character to protect their lead. They played with cool heads and were able to close out the win. Next up comes the hardest part, the Hexagonal," said the Colombian strategist, who reaffirmed that he would be staying at the helm for the remainder of the qualifying phase.
So, it turned out to be a happy night for Catracho fans and an equally joyous morning after. Indeed, it is not every day that Honduras secure their place in the final qualifying round with victory over their arch-rivals. As sports daily Diez proclaimed, these are moments to be savoured: "We're through to the Hexagonal and in first place. Honduras sealed their ticket and made Mexico look small."
Helplessness and disillusion
The jubilant mood in Honduran territory contrasted wildly with the atmosphere in Mexican sporting circles. Nearly all the papers and online media were united in their disappointment with the poor display of Sven-Goran Eriksson's men on a rain-soaked pitch in San Pedro Sula, despite the team's safe qualification for the final round.
"Crawling pitifully into the Hexagonal", headlined Mediotiempo.com, though the internet portal did not lay the blame on the players or head coach, instead claiming that the result was "a red warning sign highlighting the appalling planning and disproportionate ambition of Mexican football".
The newspaper Reforma, for its part, claimed that Mexico have gone from "a team on the right track in the first half of qualifying to one that is fearful and insecure away from home". But perhaps the most scathing headline was the paper Excélsior, which went with "Forever like mice", in reference to El Tri's pejorative nickname of "Los Ratones Verdes" (The Green Mice), which is dusted off whenever the national team play poorly. La Afición, meanwhile, classed Mexico's display as "pitiful."
The Tricolor players, on their return to Mexico City, were understandably keen to downplay the importance of the defeat. "It seems to me that we shouldn't be overly concerned or make too big a deal out of this result," said keeper Oswaldo Sanchez. "The game was lost, it was a match that turned into an uphill battle for us, but at the end of the day we're come out unscathed and we've qualified [for the final round]. That's what matters."
The scorer of the decisive own goal, Stuttgart defender Ricardo Osorio, was on the same wavelength: "People need to be patient, they ought to keep their heads and support him [Eriksson]. He deserves it and we need to strive for that."
Fortunately for the defeated Mexicans, they should not have to wait too long for the chance to set the record straight. The two teams will meet again twice in 2009, as part of the final six-team round-robin qualifying round. What, one wonders, will the headlines be after those encounters?