Group rivals may be too strong for Honduras

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By Rex Gowar

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - Honduras have already exceeded expectations by just getting to the World Cup finals. Anything else would be a bonus.

Scraping in from the CONCACAF qualifiers thanks to a last-gasp equalizer in a match far away in the United States, Honduras have ended a 28-year wait to get to their second finals.

"The biggest challenge will be to get past the (group) round. If one is realistic about the capacity of the teams we face one realizes that it's possible we'll be out," Rueda told Reuters in a recent interview.

"But there is the dream of having to play for it all on the pitch, that everything's possible in football."

Argentine Mario Zanabria, coach of local first division club Real Espana, was more down to earth.

"Chile is the revelation of the Americas, Spain is the best national team in the world and Switzerland have a German coach," he said of the Hondurans' Group H opponents.

"The Swiss are (like) a clock, you can't find space, they don't give away anything, they're soldiers," he told Reuters. "If Honduras have a decorous World Cup, that's good enough. To think of passing the (first) round, it gets complicated."

Honduras, who were at the 1982 finals in Spain, did their bit in the qualifiers by beating El Salvador 1-0 away on the final day.

However, to finish third rather than fourth and go into a playoff with the fifth-placed South American team, they were dependent on Costa Rica not beating the U.S.

The Costa Ricans went two goals up but the North Americans fought back for a 2-2 draw with a late equalizer to send Honduras through.

Honduras have strong athletic players with considerable ball skills but they are easily thrown off their game by a team with a stronger tactical discipline.

They will have their work cut out to win a point in a tough group but a surprise is not out of the question and they have had a good build-up to the tournament under coach Reinaldo Rueda.

They have a prolific scorer in Carlos Pavon, while Wilson Palacios can create attacking chances. The side have largely managed to escape injury apart from the unfortunate Carlo Costly, son of 1982 veteran Anthony Costly, who fractured a bone in his foot close to the finals.

(Editing by Clare Fallon)