Honduras must rally after crushing defeat
Midway through the second half of Honduras's 3-0 drubbing by France, a comical message went viral through Honduran mobile phones. It was in reference to the Honduran national anthem, which dedicates the fifth verse to the French by stating, "It was France, the free, the heroic."
The message jokingly suggests President Juan Orlando Hernandez should wipe out this part of the anthem all together.
The amusing image, probably created long before the game started, was certainly a welcome distraction for supporters from the farce happening on the pitch.
In truth, there isn't too much anti-Gallic feeling in Honduras at the moment. Rather, there is loathing at their own team. The Honduran national team seemed to be giving the nation a dirty reputation before its people's very eyes -- the team were being outplayed every time they tried shifting the ball out of defence.
There were indeed grumbles about the Brazilian referee Sandro Ricci, however, looking back at the highlights, Honduras could consider themselves a bit lucky to have had just Wilson Palacios sent off.
The Stoke City man, usually of a calm demeanour, was given two yellows for stamping on Paul Pogba and then nudging down the same player in box, leaving his team to play for much of the game with 10 men against a French team considered dark horses to win the tournament.
It went further downhill from there. The second half saw Luis Garrido receive yellow for scraping his studs down an opponent's chin, Boniek Garcia was cautioned for a hefty challenge, and Emilio Izaguirre was extremely lucky to escape any punishment for frustrating lifting his foot high at a French player who wouldn't return the ball.
None of this looked pretty to the eyes of the world, let alone their own people. Their own media has been critical, labeling the team's actions as "stupid" and generally feeling embarrassed of their usually proud team. Nobody wants to see this type of football. The pessimists claim people are just coming to terms with reality; Honduras just doesn't have the quality at this level.
Much has been said about Honduras's approach in the past two games. After the England friendly, which saw Brayan Beckeles see red, Steven Gerrard called Honduras's tackling as "horrific," while before the French game, coach Didier Deschamps called the Honduran players violent.
Coach Luis Fernando Suarez has defended the team, admitting that Honduras sometimes play an aggressive and intense game, but claiming the Brazilian referee was influenced by negative media coverage before the game.
He's correct in saying that Honduras's disciplinary record has been very good throughout the qualifying rounds, receiving no reds, with only the games with Mexico being particularly feisty. They certainly didn't receive any complaints from their Central American neighbours in those games.
Suarez does have a point about the referee. Had he sent Paul Pogba off for his petulant kick, which was far more aggressive than the one Beckham did all those years ago (everyone knows how that ended), the game might have had a different outcome.
It certainly set the tone for the rest of the match. Toward the end, Carlo Costly was fouled by Raphael Varane, which was ignored. Had it been at the other end, would France have been awarded a penalty? Nor were Yohan Cabaye and Mathieu Debuchy shy of few challenges, neither of them receiving a barely slapped wrist for their part.
It's not the first time referees have been accused of favouring bigger teams in this tournament.
There are no complaints about the three goals. The first goal was definitely a penalty, goal-line technology proved the ball crossed the line and the last goal was pure class.
Honduras had to be on-guard from the word go with the constant waves of attacks coming from a three-pronged frontline, fast passing and the quickness to prevent the Honduran midfield time to settle the ball.
It was a tactical master-class from Deschamps, with the Catrachos barely mustering a shot on goal. Despite the goalkeeper brushing the ball over the line and central defence looking shaky, Noel Valladares and Maynor Figueroa were Honduras's top performers.
Valladares was called on time and again to make dozens of fantastic saves, while Figueroa put in plenty of well-timed challenges to nullify an excellent French forward-line, especially after Victor "Muma" Bernardez was forced off injured.
Brayan Beckeles, labeled a liability before the tournament, also deserves an honourable mention for quashing France's left-wing attacks. There were some heroes out there, even if the post-match mood in Honduras is gloomy.
Honduras faces Ecuador on Friday. Suarez has been criticised for very basic tactics, leaving the defence dangerously exposed. He has enough cover for the suspended Palacios in defensive-midfield, but he'll have to check on the injured Muma, an important member of the Honduran defence and team morale. He must rally his troops -- as it really is do-or-die -- while not letting his team lose their discipline.