I consider myself a football optimist. I do believe in miracles that this wonderful sport can bring. I almost expect it. Esecially from the underdogs. The best kind of victories. Leicester City winning the Premier League in 2016 being one. Iceland’s heroics in the European Championships the same year. But even I thought Honduras were down for the count. La Garra Catracha has thrown itself the most unlikely lifeline and will now face Australia in the playoffs; two games they must win if they are to reach Russia 2018.
So why the surprise? They’ve reached the last two world cups. Why is this any different?
To say Honduras have been abysmal in this qualifying campaign is an understatement. They scraped through the first round which contained Mexico, El Salvador and Canada, who they lost to 1-0 on the way (bottom of the barrel kind of football). The second round started poorly, losing at home to Panama (somewhat of a bogey team for Honduras). They were also thrashed twice (losing 6-0 to USA and 3-0 to Mexico), conceded late goals that turned wins into draws (Costa Rica x 2, USA, and Panama) and played very slow, directionless football (a bit like England, although England were picking up results). Coupled with that, they went out of the Gold Cup without scoring an official goal, only going through to the quarter finals courtesy of French Guiana inexplicably playing the former French International and Chelsea player, Florent Malouda, of course against FIFA rules. The game finished 0-0, but the rule break meant the game was forfeited and Honduras were awarded the three points and three goals.
The redeeming factor was winning the Copa Centroaméricana earlier this year in Panama, although it didn’t really set the world alight. The team has also seemed in disarray, with the coach Jorge Pinto (the Colombian who steered Costa Rica to the quarter finals in the 2014 World Cup), using players who didn’t seem prepared for the rigors of international football and there were reports of fallings out in the squad. There were calls to bring back Carlo Costly (El Toro), still cracking skulls for Olimpia in Honduras, while people were wondering what had happened to the Honduran youth players that had been playing so well in their respective tournaments a few years back. They have been languishing in the 4th, 5th and 6th places of the qualifying round for the bulk of the campaign, and I was beginning to think that it was probably best Honduras give up on this campaign to save being embarrassed in Russia. I was also one of those calling for Pinto’s head. Well, he’s certainly taught me to eat my words, because Honduras (as always) suddenly perked up only when they absolutely, absolutely had to. And that time was last night (and Saturday).