Continued from previous post…
On Saturday, Honduras went to Costa Rica needing all three points to keep any hope of qualifying alive, while Costa Rica only needed a point to qualify. The omens were not good. The optimism I spoke of in the previous post had deserted me and I was preparing for the worst. I sat through most of the game playing with Vicente or reading Dr No. I grew into the game after a while, seeing that Honduras had changed their style somewhat, frustrating the Ticos with short quick passes, being more compact and defensive, hitting the opposition on the counter with more clinical and cunning attacks; in short, Honduras playing to their strengths. It was more Italian or Mourinho than the mediocre caos we’d seen before. Pinto had changed the formation, at last, from 4-4-2 to 4-2-3-1. I didn’t know of many of the players, but Maynor Figueroa, the former Wigan Athletic and Hull City defender, lead by example from the back. The whole back line looked more organised, and Emilio Izaguirre, who in my opinion has always saved his better performances for Celtic, who for once looked interested on the left. Johnny Palacios was cracking skulls and intercepting crosses, and Beckeles, who is usually unfairly made the scapegoat when things go dire, was solid on the right.
Pinto seemed done with certain midfielders. Mario Martinez, the hot-headed little oik who has never fulfilled his potential, is lost in the depths of a team in San Pedro Sula; the former Wigan player, Roger Espinoza, who I think was one of Honduras’s better players, hasn’t appeared in an age; Wilson Palacios isn’t anywhere near contention; and Andy Najar seems permanently crocked in Beligum.
Instead, he selected Bryan Acosta, who now plys his trade for Tenerife in Spain, and Alfredo Mejía, who with his beard looks more of a thinker than a footballer; just as well because he plays his club football in Greece. The two did a superb job of keeping the ball and shielding the defence, the providing short, quick passes to the attacking front line that included Romell Quioto on the left, Alex Lopez in the middle and Elis on the right, then the giant Eddie Hernandez, who plays for my Honduran club, Motagua.
The team looked organised. Of course, the keeper Escober was kept busy, but they were convincing, keeping the ball out of their half by passing it out neatly, then running with the ball when they reached the opposition’s half. And the stats speak millions: Honduras’s 11 attacks to Costa Rica’s 6. But Honduras were bossing their opponents, and Costa Rica’s emotions were beginning to spill over.
Mid-way through the second half, Eddie Hernandez pounded a header into the back of the net. Cue many foul mouthed celebrations from my wife. It was game on and Costa Rica looked a bit lost and desperate. Then, in the 90th minute, the Ticos were awarded the golden ticket when the referee summoned a mysterious six minutes of injury time. Apart from a few scruffs and arguments, the game was pretty flowing and six minutes seemed excessive. The Honduran bench thought so too, and vented their rage at the assistant referee, as did my wife, and for a few minutes, I worried for the smart TV’s life. Costa Rica took this as their moment to pounce. And they did, in the 94th minute.
A 1-1 draw and many complaints of being robbed. However, it was the best I’d seen of Honduras for some time.
The Mexico game, to be continued in the next post.