Honduras booked their place at a second straight FIFA World Cup in some style, storming through to grab third-place and an automatic berth at next year’s finals in Brazil. With a fluid combination of raw physical power and subtlety, the Catrachos rode fine form at home through the CONCACAF Hexagonal earning wins over USA and Mexico along the way. FIFA.com takes a closer look at five Honduran keys to qualifying for Brazil 2014.
USA reverse spells good start
No matter how long the journey, it always begins with one step. Honduras’ first step along the six-team qualifying Hexagonal was as good and firm as they come too. Jurgen Klinsmann’s United States arrived in San Pedro Sula with high hopes in February, and the North Americans looked to be moving in the right direction when Clint Dempsey grabbed the opening goal ten minutes before the interval. But Honduras, helped by the searing heat, a passionate home crowd, and some inspired play on the pitch, turned the result right around. An extravagant overhead kick from Juan Carlos Garcia set the scores level before Jerry Bengtson, who plays his club football in the US with MLS side New England Revolution, took advantage of some naïve defending to seal the 2-1 win in the dying moments. The result caused controversy back in the States, but all it caused in San Pedro Sula was all-day, all-night celebrations in the streets.
As is so often the case in the CONCACAF zone, home form proved crucial for the Hondurans on their run to qualifying. The blue-and-white clad Central Americans were unbeaten at home in ten games, played in both San Pedro Sula and the capital of Tegucigalpa. A pair of 2-2 draws against Panama and Mexico meant they weren’t exactly imperious on their home turf, but they produced the kind of form that, combined with some impressive results on the road, was enough to get the job done. “We are a hungry team at home,” said midfield standout Wilson Palacios. “This is not the place where we like to give away any points. This is where we get the job done.”
Win at the Azteca
While Honduras’ form at home can be called adequate by those with the highest of standards, their win in Mexico City on 6 September 2013 will forever be described with superlatives like historic and sensational. Down a goal at the half, coach Luis Fernando Suarez decided to go for broke, adding a second striker to the equation. The move paid immediate dividends as Honduras pegged back their hosts. New man Bengtson poked home from close-range in the 63rd minute and veteran striker Carlo Costly, who plays his football in the relative obscurity of China, raced through the Mexican defence to seal another crucial 2-1 win two minutes later. The result saw Mexico’s direct qualifying hopes fade to dust and cost then-coach Chepo de la Torre his job. For Honduras, the Aztecaso will remain one of the proudest moments in their sporting history.
A midfield alchemy
Honduras’ midfield was sensational throughout the final qualifying stages. Stoke Cityman Wilson Palacios transformed himself from a gritty, no-nonsense battler into a more refined presence. In addition to his usual tough tackling, the former Tottenham man added a touch of play-making and attacking to the mix, even scoring a wonder-goal in a draw with Panama that became the talk of the region. And he wasn’t alone in making the Honduran midfield a dominant crew. MLS-based Oscar Boniek Garcia was a constant threat up the flank with his pace and work-rate, as was Glasgow Celtic veteran Emilio Izaguirre. FA Cup-winning Wigan man Roger Espinoza, who was also eligible to play for USA, was a true revelation. “We’ve found a great blend of young and older players and it’s working for us,” Espinoza, who first impressed for Honduras at the London Olympic games, told FIFA.com.
Bengtson controversy squashed
No qualifying campaign passes without a few bumps in the road. Honduras had their share of minor controversies, too, with the case of striker Bengtson standing out among them. After being left on the bench in a 2-0 win over Jamaica, the Revolution ace abandoned the Honduran camp for their next game, a 1-0 loss to the States. Coming on the back of two straight losses (before the Jamaica win), the ill discipline in the camp seemed to indicate a melt-down in the Catracho ranks. But rather than make a public example of Bengtson, coach Suarez took him aside, put a hand on his shoulder and welcomed him back, insisting “he is too important to the team to leave out.” After offering an apology to his team and his boss, Bengtson let his feet do the talking, scoring in the historic win over Mexico to add to his team top-scorer haul of nine