Honduras must take advantage of first-leg of World Cup playoff in supportive Estadio Olimpico
Los Catrachos' best hope of moving past the Socceroos is getting a big victory in Friday's home leg
The message from Honduras' press ahead of Friday's playoff first leg against Australia is clear. There's no anger, no resentment, no frustration. We're with the national team. All of Honduras is with the national team.
"We're all playing" read the headline in sports tabloid Diez, while Mas declared that "All Honduras will be in The Olimpico," going on to explain that while some Catrachos will be in the stands and others watching from home "what's important is that the national team won't be alone today."
Mas: "All Honduras will be in The Olimpico...some in person others from their homes, what's important is that the national team won't be alone today" pic.twitter.com/vNDEMU7m3c— Well, hi! It's soccer reporter Jon Arnold here! (@ArnoldcommaJon) November 10, 2017
The press has been even more united than usual, with great umbrage taken at reports in Australia that characterized Honduras as a dangerous country and speculation that supporters might be better off sitting this trip out than heading to San Pedro Sula.
Jorge Luis Pinto's side will take all the help it can get. It was a rocky World Cup qualification campaign that has Honduras in this playoff, and that dreams of arriving in the World Cup for the third consecutive tournament are still alive at all is an achievement.
Honduras got out of the penultimate round of World Cup qualification by just a point, beating Canada at home before drawing Mexico to move through instead of the North Americans. They sat dead last in the Hex, the final round of CONCACAF qualification, and never were higher than fourth place. But thanks to a shock victory over Mexico on the final day of World Cup qualification and an even more shocking United States loss to Trinidad and Tobago, Honduras remains alive.
The team was reeling at the start of the cycle after losing many of its veterans to retirement or simply the progression of time after the 2014 World Cup and had several big holes to fill. Some of those spots were taken up by coaxing veteran players back into the setup. Center back Victor Bernardez made a few cameos and 35-year-old forward Carlo Costly, who is on the playoff roster, has experienced a resurgence. He's one of nine players 30 or older on the current squad.
Others were taken by an incoming generation perhaps still not ready for the top stage. Forward Alberth Elis, 21, is suspended for the first leg but scored three goals for Honduras in the Hex trailing only 24-year-old Houston Dynamo teammate Rommel Quioto. At 23, Bryan Acosta has become a key piece in the middle of the field. Barcelona B striker Anthony Lozano, 24, also has seen his role grow.
The Central Americans need a collective effort with players young and old pulling their weight if they're going to go to Russia. The social media campaign "Today more than ever" launched by the federation speaks to how critical it is that Honduras gets off to the right start Friday.
"The ideal would be to score several goals to give us an advantage, but the most important thing is that they don't score on us at home," Pinto said before the contest.
It will be a bit of a departure from the typical style. Honduras earned its reputation over the last few cycles as a physical team that prefers to sit back and defend. They also won't be able to rely on suspended captain and center back Maynor Figueroa at the back. Quioto and Lozano must make the most of their chances up front, whether it's on the counter as they usually play or if Pinto tries to control more possession than usual through Acosta and Jorge Claros in the middle. They hope that with the growth they've shown as qualification progressed and the help of the sold-out Estadio Olimpico that a good result can be achieved.
"It's fundamental to win at home, although if it doesn't happen we can win as visitors. There are two games, and we don't have to lose our head this Friday. There are 180 minutes for qualification," Honduras right back Brayan Beckeles said. "The whole group is really honored by the support of the fans during the whole qualification cycle. We're going to give our very best to give happiness to everyone who is in the stadium and following us on television."