History-making is on the agenda for a Honduras side preparing thoroughly for the decisive six-team ‘Hexagonal’ final round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. Having taken part at South Africa 2010, the Central American side are now hoping to grace consecutive editions of the global showpiece for the first time in their history.
The first obstacle in their path, on 6 February, are no less an opponent than USA, and a win for La H would be the best possible start to a Hexagonal that looks set to provide excitement aplenty. On this upcoming game and much more, FIFA.com enjoyed a full and frank chat with one of Honduras’ key men, Victor Muma Bernardez.
Speaking from the Costa Rican city of San Jose as Honduras took part in the biannual Copa Centroamericana, where Los Catrachos guaranteed their ticket for the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup, Bernardez felt the tournament was just what they need to propel them towards Brazil 2014.
“I think that we’ve had some very tough games against opponents that have improved a lot,” he said. “I think that’s helping us prepare for what’s ahead. We’re doing the right things and we’re getting stronger. The idea is to hit the kind of form we want to be in for the start of the Hexagonal,” added the 30-year-old.
Currently plying his trade for MLS outfit San Jose Earthquakes, Bernardez is among the few foreign-based Honduras players involved in the Copa, though La H should be at full-strength come the meeting with the Stars and Stripes in San Pedro Sula.
“We’ve got a blend of younger, domestic-based players with more established guys who are playing in Europe,” said the centre-back, who played for Belgium’s Anderlecht prior to his move to the USA. “Even though they [the European contingent] can’t play in these matches, we know what they have to offer us and what they can do at the highest level. I’m sure the blend we have will get us results.”
We’re hungrier now and there’s more determination to really stand out.
In Bernardez’s opinion, the number of Honduran players earning a living abroad has been key to boosting the fortunes and overall quality of the national squad: “You become more rounded, as a player and a person, and you’re also living every footballer’s dream. I had good and bad experiences, but generally I learned a lot and that helped me improve.”
Following their trip to South Africa 2010, qualifying for a second successive FIFA World Cup would be an unprecedented feat for Los Catrachos. Muma, who appeared in the 0-0 Group H draw with Switzerland on African soil, views this as a challenge rather than an added burden.
“As a player, trying to make history is part of the package,” said the defender. “We know what’s at stake at a World Cup, how wonderful an experience it is and that we’ve got a great opportunity ahead of us. We need to try and enjoy this [qualifying] process and give absolutely everything we’ve got.”
Bernardez was certainly optimistic of his side’s chances ahead of the taxing Hexagonal, particularly because, in his view, this La H squad is superior to the one that also met Spain and Chile in South Africa three years ago.
“They’re different, but I think this group of players is more united, we’re all pulling in the same direction,” said Bernardez, currently involved in his third FIFA World Cup qualifying phase. “I’d say there were more divisions in the squad back then. We’re hungrier now and there’s more determination to really stand out.”
Another change in the Honduran camp is Bernardez’s own situation, as he has gone from being an up-and-coming player to a mainstay of the team. “I try to listen to what my younger team-mates have to say,” he explained.
If we can take all 15 points from our home games and pick up four away that’ll be enough to qualify.
“Before the older guys kept you at arm's length, but I’m open to passing on my experience of what’s good, what’s bad and the things they ought to learn,” he continued. “Now I tell them to prepare properly, to learn English and to stay back after training to work on their game. In football you always need to be prepared, 24 hours a day.”
In the short term, however, the minds of Los Catrachos will be fully focused on United States, a team that, despite his extensive time in the national set-up, Muma has never faced at senior level. “Yes, it is odd this’ll be my first chance to play against them," he said.
"During the last qualifying phase I was either on the bench or not selected, so I've really had to up my game. Now the first match of the Hexagonal is just days away, and playing against the North Americans would be a dream come true for me.”
And, finally, what’s the objective for Bernardez and Co against USA? “[We’re aiming] to beat them. The Hexagonal is going to be very tight, so the most important thing is to make home advantage count,” he concluded unwaveringly. “If we can take all 15 points from our home games and pick up four away that’ll be enough to qualify.”