Bumping into an old friend can sometimes be an uncomfortable experience, as fellow Colombians Luis Fernando Suarez and Reinaldo Rueda would no doubt agree as they prepare to face the teams they once coached.
The reunion takes place in Curitiba on Friday, when Suarez’s Honduras, who were once coached by Rueda, take on Rueda’s Ecuador, one of the previous destinations in Suarez’s career in the dugout. Adding even more spice to the occasion is the fact that should there be a winner, the losers will almost certainly be bidding farewell to the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
Rueda, the man who ended Honduras’ 28-year absence from the world finals by steering them to South Africa 2010, now has the opportunity to end their participation at Brazil 2014, while Suarez, who masterminded La Tricolor’s run to the last 16 at Germany 2006, is intent on cutting short Ecuador's latest World Cup adventure.
“It’s something that’s been on our minds since December, when the Draw was made,” Rueda told FIFA ahead of a match that is sure to have him and his opposite number experiencing mixed emotions. “Obviously it’s a match I would have preferred to have avoided.”
Expressing his feelings for Los Catrachos, he added: “I love the people of Honduras very much and the love I have for them will always be there, even though we have a very intense 90 minutes ahead of us.”
The Ecuadorians are feeling the pressure after losing their opening Group E match to Switzerland, a setback that has left them with little option but to beat Suarez’s Honduras, who are in the selfsame situation after their false start against France.
“I only have good things to say about Ecuador. They made me grow as a person,” said Suarez, who was at the Tricolor helm between 2004 and 2007. “We achieved some great things together and I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s some sort of show of affection on the day of the game. If there is, then I’ll find it very gratifying on a personal level. I’ll always remember what we experienced there.”
Mutual appreciation society
There is no question of the two Colombians feeling any rancour towards the countries that once employed them, with Suarez even going as far as to express his admiration for Rueda’s Ecuador:
“It’s a different side to mine. They’ve got a lot of new players, which is an indication in itself of how much they’ve progressed. I think they play better football now, and I like the team a lot more than I did when I was in charge.”
Repaying the compliment, Rueda said: “I expected Honduras to get a better result against France. I thought they’d do it.”
When the whistle sounds for the start of Friday’s make-or-break match, however, things could get a little rocky.
Suarez is certainly expecting as much: “It’s going to be a very tense match. Both sides will go at it fairly but they’ll be battling for every ball.”
Rueda commented: “It’s going to be such a tough game for us, and we’ll be giving it all we’ve got for 90 minutes. After it’s all over, we’ll go back to being friends and we’ll remember all the lovely, positive things we shared with the Honduran team and fans.”
As the two coaches will no doubt agree, all is fair in love and war, and whatever the outcome of their Curitiba crunch match, their appreciation for their respective former employers will remain very much intact.