Honduras have their FIFA World Cup™ destiny in the palm of their hands. They are on the brink of qualifying for their second straight world finals, and a win in their penultimate CONCACAF Hexagonal contest, at home against neighbours Costa Rica on Friday, could see them through to Brazil with a game still to go (provided Mexico and Panama finish in a draw in Mexico City.)
“We know Costa Rica very well,” Stoke City midfielder Wilson Palacios said, who has emerged as the key player for Honduras in Brazil 2014 qualifying, adopting a swash-buckling creativity to match his notable physical strength and overall work-rate. “They’re a difficult opponent for us, but all of us in the team believe in ourselves and we’re going to put in some hard work as we go all-out for a win,” added the 29-year-old, who scored a solo wonder-goal – which became the talk of the region – in a recent draw with Panama.
Bragging rights are always on offer when Honduras and Costa Rica meet, with both sides having legitimate claims to being the top footballing nation in the Central American sub-region. However, Costa Rica have already booked their place at Brazil 2014 and, as such, might lack that sparkling competitive edge that saw them reach their fourth world finals with two qualifiers still to play.
Even so, the Hondurans aren’t eager to leave anything to chance. “It’s going to be a very tough game,” Added Palacios from San Pedro Sula, a venue where they beat regional giants USA in their Hexagonal opener. “Costa Rica are going to come here wanting to beat us. But, for me personally, and for the rest of the team, this is a great opportunity to give everything to qualify.”
The Hondurans are currently in third place in the six-team section with 11 points from their eight games, three more than Mexico and Panama. They are in control of their own fate, and a win at home against the Ticos would make it very difficult for them to be caught out by any of the chasing pack for the coveted third spot, which guarantees a direct ticket to Brazil. The last time the two familiar foes met in June in San Jose, Honduras came up a bit short in a tense and tight 1-0 loss, and they will surely be looking to set that to right too.
Hot form for Catrachos
The Catrachos have found a rich vein of form of late, one which culminated in last month’s dramatic 2-1 come-from-behind win over Mexico at the Estadio Azteca. It was the Central Americans’ first win at the fabled old ground in Mexico City, host of two World Cup finals, and it demonstrated some of their finest qualities. Palacios stalked the midfield, effective on both the defensive and creative sides, a perfect pairing with live-wire Roger Espinoza. Up front, Carlo Costly and Jerry Bengtson both put in impressive displays for Luis Fernando Suarez’s men.
“The most important thing is that we do everything we can to get our victory,” Palacios added with an air of caution. “Then we can worry about other results,” he added, alluding to the magic draw between Mexico and Panama that would put Honduras through with a game to spare, should they win. “We know Costa Rica very well,” Palacios went on from San Pedro Sula, a notoriously intimidating venue. “They have a lot of players who play for big clubs all over the world,” he added, before sounding a warning of his own: “But this is our home.”
Palacios, who failed to deliver the goods in a disappointing stint with Tottenham Hotspur earlier in his career, has been undergoing a renaissance of sorts for his national team. Showing a subtle playmaker spark to rival his ravenous physicality, he has become the almost-elegant engine of a fast-moving, never-say-die Honduran outfit, who are looking to qualify for their third World Cup overall.
“If we keep our concentration, we will qualify for the World Cup,” Palacios added with dogged determination obvious in his voice. “At home, we should not think about losing, or giving away any points to our visitors."