Honduras' aging but talented strike pair, David Suazo (left) and Carlos Pavón, will look to turn back the clock on Group H.
Jose Cabezas/AFP/Getty Images
Through April, SI.com will profile two World Cup teams a week. We continue with Honduras. Click here for the full archive.
Honduras makes its first World Cup appearance since 1982, but don't underestimate los Catrachos, who boast a half-dozen players making their livings in England and Italy. Unlike most Central American teams, Honduras has its fair share of elite-level athleticism, personified in Wilson Palacios, the 25-year-old midfield vacuum for England's Tottenham Hotspur. Palacios won't be intimidated by the Catrachos' group-stage foes (Chile, Spain and Switzerland), not least because he goes up against the best attackers in the world each week in the Premier League. Just don't ask him to score goals -- his shot is, frankly, brutal.
Significant pressure will be on Amado Guevara, the captain and midfield maestro. A former MLS MVP with the MetroStars, Guevara has excellent passing vision, but he'll be 34 by the time the World Cup starts and (having moved from MLS back to Honduras) is clearly on the downside of his career. If the World Cup is "a young man's game," as we're regularly told, then how will Honduras' Colombian coach, Reinaldo Rueda, handle his lineup decisions? If he sticks with the guys who finished World Cup qualifying, he might choose five attackers age 30 or older: Guevara, right midfielder Edgard Álvarez (30), free-kick specialist Julio César León (30) and forwards Carlos Pavón (36) and David Suazo (30).
Or Rueda could go young with defensive midfielder Hendry Thomas (24) of England's Wigan, forward Carlo Costly (27) and/or midfielder Ramón Núñez (24). Bottom line: Don't expect to see the same 11 guys starting every game.
Another important figure will be defender Maynor Figueroa, who has enjoyed an excellent Premiership season for Wigan. Honduras will have its hands full with talented strikers like Spain's Fernando Torres and David Villa and Chile's Humberto Suazo, which will put a big onus on Figueroa, the only member of La H's back line who plays in Europe.
What to watch for
Defense will be a huge concern: Among the four-man back line and goalkeeper Noel Valladares, two are based in Honduras (Valladares and Emilio Izaguirre), one is now playing in the Chinese second division (Mauricio Sabillón) and another (Osman Chávez) is out of contract. That's not exactly a guarantee of confidence against the attacks this team will face in South Africa.
That said, Honduras can be devastating going the other way, which should make for some entertaining games at the World Cup. If Palacios plays like a monster and the old guys can turn back the time machine, then Honduras has a chance to pull off some surprises in a less-than-fearsome group.
Key match in group stage
June 16 vs. Chile. Nobody expects Honduras to get any points off Spain in Game 2, which makes the group-stage opener against the Chileans all the more important. The Catrachos will need at least a point here if the last game against Switzerland is going to mean anything. It's unlikely that Chile coach Marcelo Bielsa will overlook Honduras, but observers in Europe may be surprised when they see that this team has the potential to be an explosive Cinderella come June.
Celebrity scouting report: Carlos Mencia*
I moved back to Honduras while I was a teenager and I actually lived there the last time they made it, in 1982. The whole qualifying experience was amazing, then they went on to the World Cup and were actually beating the hosts, Spain, 1-0 until the 65th minute. Those players became folk heroes. The same thing has happened with this current team, and that might be a lot of pressure for some of them. ... This is the best team in Honduran history by far. So many play in England, Italy, MLS and Mexico. It's easily the best collection of talent ever. ... The difference in experience will show up in South Africa. Aside from the guys who play in Europe, this team isn't used to playing in front of 50,000 or more. Some guys are going to shrink, some will rise up. ... Regardless of how they do, this is huge, dude. If they win a couple of games, that country will forget they have two presidents, they'll forget the coup, they'll forget politics -- they will all be down for their country. That was fun to see in qualifying. It's unbelievable that a stupid sport can bring peace, but it will show them they're all the same.
* The Los Angeles-raised comedian was born in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Follow him on Twitter. As told to Jonah Freedman.