Honduras: physical, but little more
According to the bookmakers, Honduras are the rank outsiders in this competition. 32nd out of 32 teams, despite the fact they’re in a weak group.
However, this shouldn’t hide the fact that Honduras have performed extremely well to reach their second consecutive World Cup. This is a poor country with a very small population, and yet they finished above Mexico in the CONCACAF final qualification group, winning 2-1 in Azteca, a genuinely fantastic result.
Manager Luis Fernando Suarez has World Cup experience, taking Ecuador to the second round in 2006, and has the team disciplined and organised well, in two banks of four. They won’t be pushovers, but in raw terms Honduras probably have less technical quality than any other side.
They compensate for that weakness with physicality. Their final pre-tournament friendly against England was a good example – there were some extremely fierce challenges considering the nature of the game, with Honduras getting one player sent-off, another fortunate not to follow him, and England players complained strongly about the tough tackling. This will surely be a feature of their play in Brazil, because these players, particularly the central midfielders, simply can’t compete in open, fluid games of football. Physical and scrappy is the ideal game for Suarez.
Honduras play a very basic 4-4-2 formation, and both their strikers have fine goalscoring records at international level, albeit against modest opposition.
Jerry Bengtson and Carlo Costly are accustomed to playing upfront together and prowl the pitch in close support of one another, looking to collect long balls from the defence. Costly can sometimes move deep to help link play, but there’s not too much nuance about their approach.
They drop back without possession, not pressing but instead creating a barrier to prevent opposition defenders finding their midfielders easily.
The midfield quartet play very narrow, particularly without possession. Roger Espinoza is a good player on the left, shuttling up and down the pitch and always ensuring he’s back in a good position to protect his full-back. The right-sided position is up for grabs – Andy Najar is the favourite, and performs a similar role to Espinoza, with more promise in the final third.
The heartbeat of the Honduran side is provided by two simple midfielders. Wilson Palacios has plenty of Premier League experience but has declined rapidly since the last World Cup. Passing was never his strong suit but he’s now lost mobility too, and is a fierce and sometimes brutal destroyer to the left of the duo. Luis Garrido isn’t entirely different, although he gets around the pitch more.
The left side of the defence is significantly stronger than the right. Emilio Izaguirre impressed at the last World Cup and has improved since then at Celtic, bombing forward repeatedly on the left, overlapping Espinoza regularly. In the centre of the defence, Maynor Figueroa is cultured on the ball, and it’s the Espinoza-Izaguire-Figueroa triangle that is probably the most impressive part of the side. Three left-footers, three players comfortable moving forward on the ball, three players with good experience of top-level football.
The right side of the defence is more basic. Victor Bernandez is good in the air but slow on the turn – an amazingly common feature amongst right-sided centre-backs in this tournament. He’s been consistently fielded alongside Figueroa in recent years, though, so their partnership is good. Right-back Brayan Beckeles is another who is solid and combative rather than technically impressive or quick, and could struggle against talented opponents.
In goal Noel Valladares will reach 125 caps in this tournament but never seems overly convincing. Just 5′10, he always seems too frantic with his movements and nervous on his goalline. Amazingly for a World Cup goalkeeper, he actually started his professional career as a striker before moving back into goal, which rather sums up the limited resources at Honduras’ disposal.
This isn’t a great side, but Honduras might cause problems with their physical approach, combined with the fact they’re well organised, sit deep, and should be difficult to break down.
It would be a major surprise if Honduras progressed, but the trick up their sleeve is their final group game, against Switzerland, in Manaus – the climate will be hugely favourable for Honduras.
Coach: Luis Fernando Suarez, who emphasises team spirit rather than tactics
Key player: Espinoza can turn defence into attack
Weakness: Basic lack of technical quality throughout the side
Key tactical question: Can physicality cause opponents problems?Honduras: physical, but little more