The air of gloom has not been helped by the words of Coach Reinaldo Rueda, who seemed to virtually write off his teams’ chances after the goalless draw with Azerbaijan, saying: “We’re not even going to give a defence. It is time to reflect. I do not see depth or aggression, or a team fit for the World Cup.” It’s likely that Rueda’s harsh words are a motivational tool designed to fire up his team into proving him wrong, while managing expectations of Honduras’ chances. If so, it did not have the immediate desired effect as the team were crushed by Romania in their next friendly. The Colombian had previously been similarly downbeat in his assessment when striker Carlo Costly was ruled out of the competition with a broken metatarsal, declaring him “irreplaceable” and suggesting “we don’t have the arsenal we think we have.”
Irrespective of any agenda behind Rueda’s outward pessimism, the fact is that Honduras have major concerns in every department ahead of their first game against Chile on June 16. Wilson Palacios is one figure who truly is irreplaceable to los Catrachos, his tenacity and dynamism anchoring the team and allowing talented captain Amado Guevara the space and protection he craves to get forward and create chances. If Palacios doesn’t make the finals, Honduras’ hopes of progression beyond the group stage may well have taken a fatal hit, so influential is the Tottenham midfielder.
The friendlies have also raised serious questions about the Honduran defence – previously considered the team’s strongest suit. Against Belarus, there was scant sign of the organisation and toughness that gave los Catrachos the finest defensive record in the CONCACAF qualifying section. They conceded one from a free header at a corner, Pulitso finding it too easy to head home, while the second goal came when a cross went unchallenged and central defenders Victor Bernardez and Osman Chavez failed to track Pultso’s run, allowing the striker the simplest of tasks to slot in his second. Similar frailties were again on show against the Romanians, as positional indiscipline once more proved the teams’ undoing, allowing Romania to lead 2-0 at half-time and clumsily giving away a penalty late on to allow the Eastern Europeans to complete the rout.
Honduras did manage to keep a clean sheet against 10-man Azerbaijan, but had problems scoring at the other end. After the attacking promise shown in the Belarus game, with record goalscorer Carlos Pavon looking typically threatening and relative newcomer Georgie Welcome scoring an excellent headed goal, the stalemate in the following match was disappointing. In spite of Azerbaijan’s numerical disadvantage, los Catrachos were barely able to muster an opportunity worthy of the name, with shots on goal at a premium and a worrying dearth of creativity from all sources.
It would be foolish to completely dismiss Honduras’ hopes of qualifying from Group H on the strength of these results, but things could not be much worse, in footballing terms, for the Central Americans at the moment. Without a win of any kind since January, and with one star definitely ruled out and another likely to join him, even their Coach seems ready to write them off. Honduras need a miracle as it stands, and they face an anxious wait to see if their prayers for Palacios’ shin will be answered.