Excitement in Honduras
Three different goalkeepers were tried out in the pre-tournament friendlies, with Noel Valladares playing in the 2-2 draw with Belarus, Ricardo Canales selected against Ajerbaijan, and Donis Escobar fielded against Romania. Valladares is likely to be Rueda’s first choice however – he has been the incumbent for the better part of the last decade, and is Los Catrachos’ seventh most capped player of all time. While he has been an important figure for the national side, concerns remain about his positioning – as was evidenced when Putsilo’s header flew past him a little too easily for Belarus’ first goal at the end of May.
The defensive issues centre on how Rueda decides to use Maynor Figueroa and Emilio Izaguirre. Usually utilised as a centre-back for his country, it seems likely that the Wigan man will continue to operate in this position, with Izaguirre, Honduran football’s Player of the Year, playing in the left-back role which has seen his star rise so dramatically. It is not, however, out of the question that Figueroa will play at left-back, as he does for his club, with Izaguirre pushing up into a left midfield position. The three-horse race between Victor Bernardez, Osman Chavez and Johnny Palacios looks to have been won by Bernardez. The Honduras Coach appears to be a big fan of the Anderlecht man, despite him barely featuring in the Belgian league this season. Los Catrachos fans have, however, expressed concerns at the clumsiness Bernardez is prone to, and he does have a tendency to concede silly fouls in dangerous areas. Similarly, Sergio Mendoza will keep his place at right-back in spite of some dreadful form in the recent friendlies in Austria.
The midfield situation very much depends on the fitness of lynchpin Wilson Palacios, with the Tottenham man’s chances of recovering from his muscle injury in time for the Chile game rated at no more than 50-50. If he makes it, Rueda may opt for a combative central midfield duo of Palacios and Wigan’s Hendry Thomas, with the creativity shunted out wide in the form of Amado Guevara and Julio Cesar de Leon. If he doesn’t, expect Thomas to play the role of enforcer with Guevara playing centrally. Perhaps most likely however, is that Thomas will be kept in reserve with Palacios and the playmaker and captain Guevara in the middle, the mercurial de Leon on the left, and the exciting Edgar Alvarez on the right. Rueda will know all about Chile’s defensive frailties and may seek to exploit them by using the clever, creative Guevara centrally, with Palacios or Thomas as the shield allowing their captain to roam forward.
Up front, injuries will again dictate who is involved. Reports from the camp have suggested that David Suazo is struggling to recover from his muscle injury, and that being the case, the lanky Georgie Welcome will partner the talismanic Carlos Pavon in attack. Welcome, linked last week with a move to Rangers, impressed in the Austrian friendlies, scoring against Belarus, and his strength and power provide a fine foil for the clever, dangerous Pavon – Los Catrachos’s all-time leading goalscorer.
Despite a calamitous preparation for South Africa 2010, Los Catrachos have a gifted squad which is more than capable of hurting Chile – and with favourites Spain tipped to win the group, Wednesday’s game may well end up deciding who qualifies from Group H in second place.