Yes, I really should have done a blog update about last week’s crucial world cup qualifying games before now. I’ve been quite busy, and I feel I’m going to be even busier over the next few days. If you’re back in the UK, the recent footy news might be the contents of Sir Alex Ferguson’s book or the results of the Champions League matches. I can guarantee that none of the celebrations this week have beaten those in Honduras last week when they confirmed their route to Brazil next summer, only the third time in the country’s history, and the second time for many people who weren’t born, or unable to remember, when they first entered back in 1982.
First off, I going to start with the drama of the whole thing. A bit like England, they had to come up with some magic in the last two games. On 11th October, they had their arch-enemies, Costa Rica, at home. Costa Rica had already qualified for the world cup, but because of the competitiveness there is between the two teams, you were guaranteed of a tight match. The game started shortly after England had convincingly beaten Montenegro, and I was feeling far more relaxed after a few cans of Port Royal beer. Honduras have a habit of playing fantastically well against teams that are far higher up the Fifa rankings (very diplomatically put, but the Fifa rankings don’t seem to make sense to anyone anyway, not even Sepp Blatter, who I’m sure doesn’t know what he’s saying most of the time, unless it’s yes when he’s receiving large financial gifts from Qatari sheikhs and businessmen) and then ruin it all by playing appallingly bad against a team way below their level. For example, last month they beat Mexico in the world-famous Azteca Stadium that belongs to Mexico, which I am unsure even England could do, and then Honduras went and drew against Panama at home in the next game. And excuse my French, but Panama are shite. It’s infuriating. So, everyone was on edge, like England fans were against Montenegro, about which team would be turning out: “good Honduras” or “bad Honduras”. In a way, many Hondurans knew that their own team could be their own worst enemy, rather than those cheeky Ticos. Honduras, for me, is quite a lot better than Costa Rica technically, but lack the mentality and financial that Costa Rica possess. It turned out to be “could be a lot better but we’ll take the result Honduras” as they scraped through an awful game of football and won 1-0, courtesy of a goal from a featherweight striker called Jerry Bengston.
That night though, Honduras could have gone directly through to the world cup, depending on what happened in the game between Mexico and Panama. Mexico have been awful in this qualifying round and have ended up drawing quite a few of their games. They were winning for most of the game, when Panama equalised in the last fifteen minutes, meaning Mexico would not be able catch Honduras on points and have to win against Costa Rica in the last game to assure that they would get the play off place, which means traveling half-way around the globe to play New Zealand, a country more famous for playing rugby than football. Honduras was celebrating, only for a young man by the name of Raul Jimenez from Mexico to pop up a few minutes from the end to score a quite spectacular overhead kick, known as a chilena in Spanish. So, Catrachos had to put their champagne on ice for a couple more days.
Funnily enough, Honduras were in a slightly more comfortable situation than England were in for Tuesday game. Whereas England had to beat Poland to go through as group winners, as Ukraine were sure to beat the mighty San Marino, Honduras only had to draw against Jamaica, a country known for fast sprinters, reggae, rum and jerk chicken, who were already knocked out and bound to finish last. If Honduras were to lose 2-0 and Mexico were to beat Costa Rica by the same amount, and Panama were to do the same against USA, Honduras would be going through the play-offs, or even worse, not going to the world cup at all. All they had to do was win or draw. That’s right. Focus. Their track record wasn’t great against Jamaica, but surely Honduras could put together a performance that would take them through, and make their country proud. Well, as the whistle blows to start the game, I was slagging off Carlos Costly (who used to play in England) to my housemate Wilmer (I was feeling a bit cocky after England had seen off Poland), Honduras’ heavy and slow striker, labelling him, well, a heavy and slow striker. Then the heavy and slow striker goes off and does something nimble and fast and scores a goal in the first few moments.
Then, 10 minutes before the game, I was saying how good Honduras’ central defence pairing were, Figueroa and Bouma, only for them to get in each other’s way, along with about six other Honduran players, and Jamaica pulled one back just seconds after Honduras had scored. Honduras continued to look lively and play with a lot of energy, while the Jamaicans were going in strong and maybe should have had a couple of red cards. Then 30 minutes into the game, about 30 or 40 yards out, a Jamaican brutally fouled a Honduran, and up stepped Figueroa, a man known for his long-range shooting abilities (many of you might remember he won goal of the season when playing for Wigan Athletic with an audacious shot from behind the half-way line against Stoke City). Well, this is what Figueroa did last Tuesday! See below:
But that was the end of Honduras’ dominance of the game, and they openly invited Jamaica into the game. They almost equalised minutes afterwards from a long-range free-kick from the same distance of Figueroa’s super strike. Honduras looked worn out more than anything. In the second half, Jamaica were awarded a dodgy penalty for handball, which I found a bit ironic. Jamaica were very lucky to have 11 men on the pitch at that point, or even 10. But then they were awarded a penalty when the Jamaican forward blasted the ball, half a metre away from a Honduran defender, that struck the Catracho’s arm. Jamaica scored the goal, and then the nerves started to show. I am pretty sure the players were hearing the scorelines in the other matches though. Costa Rica were beating Mexico 2-1, which pretty much meant Honduras were through. I kept texting Pamela not to worry, that Honduras were safe and dry, but she was telling me to remain quiet until the whistle had blown.
Then the excitement turned to the Panama and USA game, where Panama were winning 2-1 right up to the dying seconds. This meant that Mexico would be knocked out, not even reaching the play offs. The first big football heavyweight out of the world cup before any ball had been kicked in Brazil. But, to Mexico’s saviour and Panama’s poor professionalism, USA scored two goals in injury time, sending Panama crashing out and a whole country into tears. I have never played a professional game of football in my life, but even I know, with the chance of going to the world cup while you’re 2-1 up, you defend as though your life depends on it. And they just didn’t do it.
But at the end of the night, Honduras were through, Mexico have a life-line and Panama are out, and neither of the three teams managed to win their must-win games. Football, the beautiful game.