Honduras’ fans and players are acutely aware that there is no further margin for error as they go into their last two fixtures of the penultimate round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. Los Catrachos find themselves in a three-way battle with Panama and Canada for Group C’s two available tickets to the final Hexagonal stage, and will face both teams in quick succession in what promises to be two memorable encounters.
And while the hurdles that await them are significant, the Hondurans will likely be reassured by the fact that their fate remains in their own hands. Two positive results would see them advance to the climactic six-team continental showdown and keep their dreams of a second consecutive FIFA World Cup appearance very much alive.
Wigan Athletic defender Maynor Figueroa, one of the stalwarts of the Central American side, discussed this possibility and the upcoming game with group leaders Panama during an exclusive chat with FIFA.com.
Demonstrating the same conviction that he shows out on the pitch, Figueroa is clear about the way in which he and his team-mates view Friday’s critical away clash with Panama. “It’s like a cup final for us,” said the English Premier League star. "It’s an incredibly important match in terms of maintaining our hopes of qualifying for the next round. We have to pick up a good result."
Back in June, when the two nations first locked horns during this campaign, the Panamanians came away from San Pedro Sula with all three points, an outcome that was as surprising as it was damaging to the Hondurans. As far as Figueroa is concerned, Los Canaleros are certainly worthy of respect, but his own team has the ability to reverse the original result.
“Panama are currently playing their best football for many years; they’ve got some great players, who’ve enjoyed success at club level all over the globe,” said the energetic left-back.
“But when we face them, we must keep our shape. We didn’t do ourselves justice in San Pedro Sula – we didn’t live up to our usual standards. That match was a bit of a blip; in fact, it was one of the strangest Honduran performances I can remember. But now we’re at a different stage in the season, with more playing time with our clubs and country under our belts, and that makes a big difference."
Honduras will travel to Panama City without one of their key players, Sporting Kansas City midfielder Roger Espinoza, who suffered an ankle injury at the weekend. Figueroa regrets his absence, but is confident that he and his compatriots can overcome the setback.
“There’s no doubt that it’s a blow. He’s an excellent player, and we, as well as all Hondurans, really feel for him. Those are the kinds of things that happen in football: you offer support to your team-mate and friend, but at the same time a door opens for someone else to step up and show what he can do,” he said, his voice full of optimism.
And that optimism may not be misplaced, given the defender’s belief that Honduras’ success is based on their ability to play as a unit rather than a reliance on individual performers. “The most important thing is the feeling of unity that we all share," he explained. "And if you combine that with our perseverance, and the great confidence we show when the going gets tough, I think that we’re well equipped to face the challenges ahead."
With the moment of truth fast approaching, Figueroa knows that a victory in Panama would equate to a giant leap towards the Hexagonal round. A defeat, meanwhile, would force Honduran supporters to get out their calculators, a situation that the 29-year-old and his team-mates are keen to avoid.
“We have to reach the next phase as soon as possible,” he concluded enthusiastically. "If we manage that, we’ll be within touching distance of Brazil. Of course the Hexagonal will be just as tricky, but getting there will give us a huge confidence boost for future matches."