Going into friendly matches against Paraguay and Colombia, few would have backed Honduras to overcome either of the South American big hitters. Particularly with the Guaraníes currently atop the region's qualifying standings ahead of Brazil and Argentina and the Cafeteros' run of nine games without defeat since the previous summer's Copa America.

Yet the current batch of Catracho stars are made from sterner stuff than the national team's disappointing performances in recent years would suggest. Coach Reinaldo Rueda has quietly assembled a talented and hard-working unit comprising perhaps the most gifted generation of Hondurans since that which qualified for the 1982 FIFA World Cup Spain .

And if last month's 3-1 win over Paraguay was something of a surprise result, Rueda's charges proved they are no one-hit wonders by beating Colombia only last week. The task now before them is to carry this momentum into an even greater challenge: the CONCACAF qualifying phase for South Africa 2010.

Praise and caution in equal measure
"Reinaldo has an excellent team, they were good opponents. The game was just too tough for us," said Colombia coach Jose Luis Pinto after the meeting between the sides, a match dominated by Honduras and marked by excellent performances from David Suazo, Julio Leon and Carlo Costly.

And yet despite this high praise, the Hondurans themselves have been in cautious mood. Even after discovering that their first opponents on the road to South Africa will be Puerto Rico, who lie 125 places below in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, the Catrachos have refused to get carried away.

This could prove vital against a Puerto Rico side still unbeaten in 2008 and who will be dreaming of emulating the achievements of fellow minnows Guadeloupe, who knocked Honduras out of the last CONCACAF Gold Cup.

"We're on the right track," says Honduran defender Sergio Mendoza. "But we mustn't underestimate Puerto Rico. The gap between football teams has narrowed considerably. I don't think they're going to catch us off guard but we must always respect them." Of the same opinion is captain and national legend Amado Guevara. "We'll need to prepare properly before playing against them. It's true that they're an almost unknown quantity, but they deserve a lot of respect. We want to beat them in June to make it through the first phase."

Olympic dreams
And while the senior side focus on establishing themselves as a genuine regional powerhouse, Honduras' youth national teams reached that stage some time ago. Indeed, the Catrachos have qualified for two of the last three Men's Olympic Football Tournaments.

Their place for this year's Olympics in Beijing was sealed at March 2008's qualifying competition in the United States. Not satisfied with taking one of the two available tickets for China by reaching the final, the Hondurans promptly overturned the host nation and heavy favourites 1-0 to take the regional U-23 crown.

Their display on US soil drew warm praise from all those involved in the Honduran game, including the country's biggest star, David Suazo. "I'm delighted to have been able to meet the U-23 lads," said the Inter Milan forward. "I think that they've done the country proud once again and that we mustn't stop here. We have to give them even more support because they've an extremely tough competition ahead."

Infused by this wave of up-and-coming young talents, and brimming with confidence from their recent successes, Suazo and Co will believe that a place at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa, which would be their first finals in 28 years, is not beyond their reach.