Despite losses, Honduras holding on
Honduras is proud, even after their 2-1 defeat to Ecuador. Unfortunately, their second loss of the campaign has left them on the brink of elimination.
There were a mixture of feelings in the buildup to the game; buoyed that France had just thrashed the Swiss 5-2, making their own 3-0 defeat to the French seem not as bad as they thought, especially having played most of the game with 10 men.
However, they felt hard done by the world press that claimed Honduras was "violent," especially after Uruguay escaped any criticism for their heavy tackling against England. Envy of their CONCACAF rivals has also been on their minds, especially with Costa Rica doing amazingly well escaping the so-called group of champions.
Honduras began the game brightly, the best performance from the Catrachos in some time. For most of the first half they bossed the midfield, with Boniek Garcia seeing lots of the ball and making clever runs from the right, coming inside and providing through balls to Carlo Costly.
The key battle between Antonio Valencia and Emilio Izaguirre was won by the Celtic man, who kept the Manchester United winger quiet in the first half, but was forced off with injury at halftime. His replacement, Juan Carlos Garcia, also kept the Ecuadorian captain quiet, but it was another Valencia who would prove more dangerous -- Enner Valencia would have a bigger say on the game than his older cousin.
Central defender Victor Bernardez, crowned with a fierce yellowish hair colour, also put in a fine display with many important tackles, keeping the Ecuador strikers at bay. He saw a spectacular long-range free kick turned around the post and was also guilty of missing a near free header. It had the Honduran commenters praising the team and people in bars buzzing.
Wilson Palacios, despite his quality, might find it hard to get his place back. Luis Garrido and Jorge Claro, who perhaps lack the technical ability of Palacios, showed that the heart of the Stoke midfielder has been found lacking in recent games.
The Catracho goal came just after the half-hour mark, when Costly latched on to a loose ball, shrugged off nearby defenders and dispatched the ball neatly into the bottom corner. It's the least they deserved, a goal they'd been waiting for since the 1982 World Cup, ending a 510-minute goal drought, the second longest in World Cup history.
The fans' belief had taken a knocking after the French game, with many saying they would be happy if Honduras just scored a goal. They got it, something to celebrate. The image of Costly's face, with tears of joy running down his face, will go down in Honduran football folklore and is surely be one the happiest images of the World Cup so far. Every Honduran is proud of him, having faced heartbreak when he was injured before the 2010 World Cup; he finally got his World Cup goal.
Unfortunately, as was evident in the friendlies, Honduras' defence fell asleep just three minutes after the goal, when the Ecuadorian Juan Carlos Paredes' pass cut straight through the heart of defence, met by Enner Valencia, who popped it home at the far post. Brayan Beckeles failed to track him, Noel Valladares was caught by surprise, and Bernardez and Maynor Figueroa looked at each other.
The team plodded on to the end of the half and were a bit unlucky to have a goal disallowed when Jerry Bengtson was judged to have handled the ball prior to putting it into the back of the net. This sparked a furious response from Honduras, for which Bengtson received a yellow card.
The second half died down, and Honduras lost a bit of momentum. They could feel a bit unlucky that they weren't awarded a penalty when Costly was pushed down (for the second time in this tournament) in the area, and a second goal was disallowed for offside (only just).
A second Enner Valencia goal in the 65th minute stemmed from another set-piece mistake that will make coach Luis Suarez furious. A free kick from the left was met, but the little Ecuadorian managed to out-jump another sleeping Honduran defence. Honduras huffed and puffed, they brought on Mario Martinez and Marvin Chavez, but the Catracho attacks fizzled.
It was a spirited performance, and La H should be proud. However, they needed a win, and the Ecuadorian team they were up against was hardly vintage. Despite losing their first two games, the Catrachos can still qualify, needing France to beat Ecuador by a few goals, and Honduras need to beat Switzerland by at least two. Needless to say, it will be difficult, but not impossible.
They can take heart that Switzerland's defence received an even-bigger battering by the brilliant French, and the game will be played in Manaus, conditions very similar to those in Honduras. Never has a team lost their first two games and qualified, but that doesn't mean it can't happen.
Nick is an English journalist who has lived in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and followed the Catrachos for four years. A self-confessed soccer fanatic, he supports Birmingham City in England and Motagua in Honduras. Nick ran a marathon for charity wearing the Catracho shirt, written a book with street kids in Honduras and writes the blog Nick "El Catracho" Rogers.