SPORTS

World Cup: Honduras Team Profile

FILE - In this Nov. 16, 2013, file photo, Brazil forward Neymar, foreground, goes down as he battles for the ball with Honduras midfielder Wilson Palacios during the first half of an international friendly soccer game, in Miami Gardens, Fla. Palacios received a yellow card warning on the play. This is the third time in its history that Honduras qualifies for a World Cup. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

FILE - In this Nov. 16, 2013, file photo, Brazil forward Neymar, foreground, goes down as he battles for the ball with Honduras midfielder Wilson Palacios during the first half of an international friendly soccer game, in Miami Gardens, Fla. Palacios received a yellow card warning on the play. This is the third time in its history that Honduras qualifies for a World Cup. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

There aren’t a lot of people giving Los Catrachos much of a chance to do much of anything in Brazil.

There were even various press reports suggested that the country has never scored a goal in the World Cup, which isn’t true.

Yes, the Hondurans had their sheets kept clean for all of the 2010 Cup, but they did score twice in 1982, working 1-1 ties against both Northern Ireland and, most impressively, that year’s host, Spain, nearly squeaking into the knockout round in the process.

But Honduras has a solid team that could surprise any team at the tournament. Having been thrown into one of the weakest groups at the Cup, Los Catrachos suddenly become a very appealing dark horse candidate to get to the Round of 16.

But certainly no further.

Skeptical? The Honduran squad isn’t.

At the 2012 London Olympics, many of the same players (Jerry Bengtson, Maynor Figueroa, Andy Najar) sent Spain packing, 1-0.

Bengtson scored an early goal, and Los Catrachos held on, playing an ugly, bruising brand of soccer against the defending World Cup champs.

They followed the same pattern—get out in front early, play tough D and push and bully afterward—against Brazil two games later, despite playing most of the match a man down and down to 9 at the end. [http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2012/aug/04/london-2012-brazil-honduras-quarter-final]

The final score was 3-2 but the bruises on the Brazilian players’ egos (and flesh) weren’t hard to spot.

And if anyone needed more recent proof that Honduras can hang and bang with the big boys, on June 7 they played England to a grueling 0-0 draw that left the Lions complaining about the Honduran squad’s “horrific” tackles.

On the other hand, 4-2 and 2-0 losses to Israel and Turkey, respectively, in recent weeks, weren’t very encouraging.

 

Players to Watch

Carlo Costly: The 31-year-old journeyman striker plays for Real España in the Honduran league. Costly and his strike partner, the New England Revolution’s Jerry Bengtson, scored two-thirds of all the Catracho goals during Cup qualifying. Early in Costly’s club career, he played for Belchatow in Poland, but after spending time on loan, he refused to return, complaining that Poland was too cold and too racist. He’s also played in England, Romania, Mexico, China as well as in the MLS. His father, Anthony, was a defenseman on the 1982 Honduran Cup squad.

Roger Espinoza: A key piece of Los Catrachos run to the quarterfinals at the 2012 London Olympics, Espinoza, 27, is a defensive-minded midfielder who plays for Wigan in England. Another young immigrant to the U.S., Espinoza’s family moved to Aurora, Colo., when he was 12. He played at Ohio State and was drafted by Kansas City in the MLS.

Andy Najar: The talented winger came to the United States at 13, and developed his skills at the DC United soccer academy. “He is the poster boy for what our academy system is supposed to be,” the team’s G.M., Dave Kasper said. In April 2011, rather than wait five years until his U.S. citizenship could come through, the 2010 MLS Rookie of the Year opted to represent Los Catrachos. He now plays for the Belgian team Anderlecht.

Wilson Palacios: “Hard-working,” “low-maintenance,” “top-caliber”—it seems like a log of the words chosen by coaches and teammates to describe the midfielder for Stoke City in the Premier League are compound ones. The 29-year-old defensive midfielder is also the toughest guy in a bruising defensive unit.

Emilio Izaguirre: Since 2010, the 28-year-old has been the left back for Celtic in Scotland, a stretch during which the team has won three straight Scottish League titles and a couple of Cups. He and Maynor Figueroa form the core of the back line—both are natural left backs who can also play in the center, and they are both strong enough to hamper the offensive rhythm of the best strikers.

Coach

Luis Fernando Suárez: One would figure that leading Ecuador to the Round of 16, as the Colombian-born coach did in 2006, would buy one a lot of credibility. In fact, it took a seriously perfect free kick by England’s David Beckham, to eliminate them. Even so, Suárez wound up coaching at the backwater of Club Juan Aurich in Chiclayo, Peru, when Los Catrachos offered him a job.

 

Group

Per FIFA’s rankings last fall, Switzerland is the seeded team in the group, but many consider France to be the actual favorite. At least before its star winger Franck Ribéry was declared out for the Cup. During qualifying, Ecuador played like a beast in the thin air of Quito (9,350 feet above sea level) but like a pussy cat at lower altitudes. So where does that leave Group E?

Up in the air, with all four squads having a realistic chance to advance. Los Catrachos’ first match against the French will decide the tone of their tournament. If they can bump and grind out at least a tie against Les Bleus, their chances of making it through group play increase exponentially.

 

Quirk

At the 2010 World Cup, the Honduras roster included Wilson Palacios and his brothers Jerry and Johnny. It was the first time a trio of siblings played at the Cup.

 

Schedule

v. France, Sun. June 15, 3 p.m., Porto Alegre

v. Ecuador, Fri., June 20, 6 p.m., Curitiba

v. Switzerland, Wed., June 24, 4 p.m., Manaus

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