Playing the first match of the final round of World Cup qualifying on the road is always going to be a challenge. When that game is against Honduras, you are facing one of your stiffest tests. As a starting point, the Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano is one of the largest and loudest venues in CONCACAF. And in case you were concerned that with a 3 p.m. kickoff time on a work day would prevent people from coming, the Honduran government took care of that by declaring the afternoon a national holiday. Yes, it’s going to be a heck of an atmosphere on Wednesday. And that’s before we talk about the Honduran team, which is enjoying one of its finest eras in team history.
Honduras, who will be looking to qualify for a second consecutive FIFA World Cup for the first time in team history, has already played four competitive international matches in 2013. They reached the final of the Copa Centroamericana, earning a second place finish for the third time after falling 1-0 to Costa Rica. They have also won the biannual tournament three times and as recently as 2011.
Los Catrachos enter the year after a successful campaign in 2012, when they finished at the top of Group C in the Semifinal Round in World Cup qualifying. The Hondurans are unbeaten in their last five World Cup qualifiers, including an 8-1 drubbing of Canada in their last game that eliminated Canada and pushed Honduras through to the final round. Forwards Jerry Bengston and Carlo Costly both registered hat tricks against the Canadians. The Honduran attacking combo has led the team in goals since 2011, with 14 and 10 respectively. In their 16 total fixtures in 2012, Honduras posted a 6-4-6 record and garnered a +11 advantage in goal differential.
Last year’s campaign also included an impressive showing at the 2012 London Olympics. Bengston scored the lone goal of a 1-0 victory against Spain, and draws against Japan and Morocco allowed Honduras to advance to the quarterfinals where they fell 3-2 to eventual silver medalists Brazil.
The successful 2012 campaign was no surprise as it followed an inspiring 2011 in which they played in 19 matches and posted a record of 7-7-5. Honduras took their third Copa Centroamericana title by defeating Costa Rica 2-1 in the final, and didn’t trail in a match at any point in the final three matches of the tournament.
Honduras also turned in a successful performance at the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup. Reaching the semifinal after winning a penalty shootout against Costa Rica in front of 78,807 fans at New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., Honduras lost to eventual champion Mexico.
Buoyed by several players plying their trade professionally in England and the United States, the Honduran team of 2013 is poised to be one of the most competitive teams in the Hex. A result for the United States on Wednesday would be huge. Consider this: Honduras has only lost three total matches at home in the final round of qualifying since 2001, which means any points a team can take from them in Honduras can deliver a big leg up in snatching one of the top three spots in one of the most competitive groups in CONCACAF history.