Hondurans were thrilled to finally make their return to the grand stage of the world cup finals. Millions stayed up into the early hours back home to watch Los Catrachos’ exploits, while the government of the politically unstable Central American nation organised a work schedule which would allow everyone to watch the games. Now however, having picked up only a single point and failed to score a goal at all, Honduras’ miserable world cup is over. Coach Reinaldo Rueda made six changes to the team to face Switzerland in their final group game, seemingly righting some of the wrongs he had made earlier in the tournament. Hapless full backs Sergio Mendoza and Emiliano Izaguirre were finally replaced. At long last, Rueda ditched 4-5-1 and played Jerry Palacios alongside David Suazo. Edgar Alvarez was restored to the side, and again looked the most likely Honduran to score. The game however, petered out into a stalemate which confirmed the eliminations of both teams.
Rueda had wanted to extend his contract with Los Catrachos before the team travelled to South Africa. The Honduran FA however, preferred to wait until after the tournament. Both parties now have a decision to make – does the Colombian continue to build on his fine work, or do Honduras start again with a clean slate? It may seem both ungrateful and unthinkable to consider replacing the coach who put Honduran football back on the map in leading them to only their second world cup finals. The poor World Cup they endured should also, to a degree, be viewed in the context of the nightmare injury crisis that besieged them, robbing them of Carlo Costly and Julio Cesar de Leon and damaging the fitness of David Suazo, Wilson Palacios and Hendry Thomas – undeniably five of the team’s key players.
There is also an argument, however, that some of Rueda’s decisions hindered Honduras over the course of the tournament. Admittedly, they were in a tough group, but he was far too cautious. Chile’s defensive frailties were evident in their first game, yet in deploying a lone striker – and a 36 year-old lone striker at that, his team failed to even come close to stretching the South Americans. While he fielded two strikers in their final, must-win game against the Swiss, there still wasn’t the real urgency in Los Catrachos’ play, in spite of praise of their performance from Rueda and the media. Rueda compensated for playing an extra striker by deploying an additional holding midfielder into the team in bringing in Hendry Thomas alongside Wilson Palacios.
Alvarez – Honduras’ most dangerous attacker throughout the tournament – returned, but Walter Martinez, another pacy outlet who was the only player to even remotely threaten the Spanish, was inexplicably dropped as Rueda refused to utilise attacking wingers on both flanks. Consequently, even with the extra striker, Los Catrachos lacked the supply line to trouble Switzerland with any kind of frequency.
The Coach also made some curious selections in terms of personnel. Why Alvarez was dropped for the Spain game is a mystery. The Colombian persisted with Sergio Mendoza at right back in spite of his awful form in the warm up games, and sure enough he cost the team goals in each of their first two games. Furthermore, with the team suffering from a shortage of strikers, he persisted with a struggling, aged Carlos Pavon and clearly unfit Suazo rather than turning to the form striker, Georgie Welcome. Despite scoring in the warm ups and attracting interest from big clubs in Europe, the tall striker did not receive one starting opportunity. When he came on as a substitute, particularly against Spain, he caused problems with his strength, awkward frame, and the obligatory “good touch for a big man”.
It could prove to be a long time before we see Los Catrachos at another world cup. Many of their stars in their mid or early thirties – Pavon, Amado Guevara, Noel Valladares, Suazo – and surely won’t be around in four years’ time. Even the likes of Wilson Palacios, Maynor Figueroa and Alvarez will be over 30 by 2014. If Rueda is to stay, he needs to show more faith in youth and more faith in the domestic league. He arguably persisted too much with the old guard at this world cup. Pavon, for example, should never have been asked to lead the line himself. On numerous occasions, Rueda has claimed that the Honduran league does not sufficiently prepare players for international football. However, with so many of the team’s Europe-based stars either nudging towards retirement or not playing regularly for their clubs, it is surely time to turn towards the likes of Welcome and Honduran league top scorer Jerry Bengston, who didn’t even make the final 23 man squad to lead a new wave of talent. Honduras failed to show the world what they are capable of in South Africa. Hopefully their next chance to shine on the world stage will come sooner, rather than later – either with Reinaldo Rueda at the helm, or without him.