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May 24, 2014

32 Teams in 32 Days: Honduras

Honduras have never won a World Cup match, but a crop of young talent are looking to change that and surprise a relatively docile group E.

Group E | Switzerland | Ecuador | France


Team DNA

For decades, Honduras were the "nearly team" of CONCACAF. After qualifying for their first World Cup in 1982, Los Catrachos went 28 years before returning to the finals and endured some heartbreaking collapses along the way. Most notable of these came during World Cup qualifying in 2001. Honduras were in control of their fate with two games remaining, but a 1-0 home loss against previously winless Trinidad and Tobago -- a match that saw the hosts hit the woodwork six times -- resulted in Honduras being overtaken by the United States and Mexico.

Honduras finally broke through in qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, although it took a late U.S. goal against Costa Rica to push them over the qualification finish line, and now the soccer-mad nation can boast of qualifying for their second consecutive World Cup.

Honduras have historically fielded very athletic teams that loved to pressure opponents on the break. This is borne out by the players the country has produced in the past, including Serie A veteran David Suazo.

With the current group, manager Luis Fernando Suarez has done all he could to instill some discipline in the side, and to a large degree he has been successful. That said, with fast, powerful forwards like Carlo Costly and Jerry Bengtson, Honduras are a group that can still punish teams on the counterattack, though they can play a bit as well through midfielders Roger Espinoza and Oscar Boniek Garcia. Emilio Izaguirre, a left back who loves to bomb forward, is one of the suppliers for Costly and Bengtson.

Starting scenario

History

This will be the third World Cup appearance in Honduras' history and their second consecutive trip. In each previous appearance (1982 and 2010), they've allowed only three goals but did not win a match.

How they reached Brazil

Like most qualifying campaigns, Honduras went through some ups and downs. The semifinal round saw Los Catrachos pushed to the last game, where they performed brilliantly in an 8-1 win against Canada. The final-round hexagonal witnessed a rough stretch where Honduras dropped three of four matches during the summer months, but a historic 2-1 win against Mexico at Azteca -- with Bengtson and Costly getting the goals -- provided some precious breathing room.

On the final match day against Jamaica, Honduras found themselves in a familiar position, that of controlling their destiny. A draw was all they needed to secure the third and final automatic qualification spot, and Suarez's squad got the job done with a 2-2 tie, thanks to goals from Costly and Maynor Figueroa.

Honduras produced two of the three joint top scorers in the final round, with Costly and Bengtson each scoring four goals.

The numbers never lie

Calculating a nation's passion for the game based on how well it pays its manager, attends its games and gets out to play:

Key battles

Back in 2010, a Honduras team with nothing to play for extracted a 0-0 draw from their group finale against Switzerland, a result that ended Swiss hopes of advancement. That will make an otherwise ho-hum matchup a bit more interesting.

Those two sides will meet in the group finale once again; but for that match to mean anything to Los Catrachos, they'll need to get something out of their first two matches, and the game against Ecuador is fraught with intrigue.

Suarez took Ecuador to the Round of 16 in 2006 before being fired three games into qualifying for the 2010 World Cup. He would like nothing better than to put one over on his former bosses. The players will also be motivated, as the manager on the opposite bench is none other than Reinaldo Rueda, who led Honduras to the World Cup in 2010.

Most important player

Espinoza provides an essential two-way presence in midfield and is Honduras' best player. When Suarez uses a 4-4-2, Espinoza can be found on the left side of midfield, but with a penchant for tucking inside. Against tougher teams -- and this is what we're probably going to see in the Group E opener against France -- Suarez opts for a 4-1-4-1 with Espinoza starting centrally alongside Wilson Palacios. Espinoza's partner in attack will be Garcia. The Houston Dynamo midfielder almost glides into attacking spaces from his position on the right wing, but he is deceptively quick and crafty on the ball, as well.

Costly, with his combination of power and mobility, will be relied on heavily to get the goals, especially if Suarez opts for a single striker alignment. If Honduras fields a two-striker alignment, the pacy Bengtson -- long thought to be the future of Honduran soccer -- will join Costly up top. In defense, the tandem of Victor Bernardez and Figueroa provide a highly physical presence in the back, though oddly, the duo is not as dominating in the air as one might expect.

Definition of success

Honduras have been drawn in Group E alongside France, Ecuador and Switzerland. It's a group that seems a bit more manageable than the trio of Spain, Chile and Switzerland that Honduras encountered four years ago, when Los Catrachos finished last. But without question, Suarez's squad enter the tournament as clear outsiders. The benefit of that is there will be absolutely no pressure on Honduras; but to win, they will have to find a way to play at -- or even beyond -- their perceived limits.

- Video: Honduras odds in World Cup (Australia only)

Emerging from this group would be a historic achievement, and even nicking a point or two off the presumed favorites will be viewed as a success. But given that Honduras have yet to win a game in two previous trips to the World Cup, that will be one of the goals here.

How far will Honduras go?

Honduras have secured a point in each of their two previous trips to the World Cup. That seems about the limit of what can be accomplished this time around.

ESPN FC Analysts' take: Kasey Keller

In their second consecutive World Cup, Honduras have a few quality players sprinkled around Europe. The real question for this very athletic squad is: Do they have enough playmakers to create enough scoring chances?

Scoring goals will be the biggest shortcoming for this squad. Back in South Africa in 2010, Los Catrachos conceded only three goals, but they could not score a single one. Their main scoring threat will come from Costly, but the squad's overall quality might not be there -- the young players are a little too young and the veterans a few years too old.

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