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In hostile Honduras, a brutal test awaits Australia

Wondering what the Socceroos are in for when they face Honduras next month? Take it from veteran Canadian midfielder Andre Hainault, who has set foot in all of Central America’s famously wild venues.

Honduras

A Honduras fan celebrates their World Cup qualifying campaign Source: AAP

"It’s probably the most hostile atmosphere I’ve ever played in," Hainault told the Toronto Sun.

"I can remember coming out for the game and there’s this caged tunnel and the people are climbing all over and shaking it."

All that was for a simple, regular World Cup qualifier in 2008.

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Hainault had the temerity to score a 54th minute equaliser that day – before Honduras, roared home by a crowd that could politely be described as animated, smashed home two more.

Barbed wire (next to a giant moat) separates fans from the field at the Estadio Olímpico Metropolitano and that’s for good reason. Honduras takes football rather seriously.



As you will no doubt hear endlessness about in the next few weeks, yes, Honduras were part of the so-called "Football War" with neighbouring El Salvador in 1969.

Technically, the war was about much deeper issues – tensions had long-simmered over land rights and immigration – but it was a World Cup qualifier that lit the touchpaper.

Without cheapening the meaning of a real war that had actual casualties, it does go to show how deep the game’s meaning is in the country and the region as a whole.

Some critics speculated that Australia's match against Syria would be the equivalent of the matches against Uruguay in 2001 and 2005.



Quite wrong. The Syrian match was more like the qualifiers against Canada (1993) and New Zealand (2001) – competitive entrees to a hell-for-leather main course.

Make no mistake, this is the equivalent of Uruguay in terms of hostility. It’ll be a battle for the Australian team just to get to the venue on time.

But it was the lessons of the 2001 trip that forged the grounding for the 2005 success. Australia pulled all the right strings in preparation – they must make sure to do so again here.

One overlooked stroke of genius by Guus Hiddink was assembling the team in Argentina, so that they could acclimatise to similar conditions, all whilst bathing in tremendous local goodwill.

Expect Australia this time to look at nearby Nicaragua – considered one of the safest nations in all Latin America.

Before anyone asks, acclimatisation will be absolutely necessary.

The average temperature in San Pedro Sula during November – the first month of the Honduras winter – is 30.2 degrees (compared to 23.8 in Sydney), with an average humidity of 83 per cent (57 per cent in Sydney).



Don’t forget that most Socceroos will be coming from Europe, where winter will almost be in full swing.

Honduras lies half-way between the Tropic of Cancer and the equator, which, in layman’s terms, means the following: the first leg is being played in what effectively amounts to a concrete sauna, filled with 40,000 screaming fans.

Some might say that Uruguay’s 2001 and 2005 editions were vastly superior team to this Honduran outfit, and they’d be right.

But the Socceroos of the same era were probably that much better than the current edition. For this group of players, it is an equitable challenge to that faced by our greatest-ever team.

Honduras might not have an Alvaro Recoba but we don’t have a Harry Kewell.

Tim Cahill is still there inspiring Australia – and Honduras have their own equivalent, Maynor Figueroa, a defensive icon with an astonishing 135 caps to his name.



Beyond that, however, neither team has too many household international names, especially with veteran forward Carlo Costly (76 games, 32 goals) currently out of the Honduran team due to a spat with manager Jorge Luis Pinto. That rift will must be closely monitored.

However, it is a steady group, pulled predominantly from the most powerful three teams of the domestic league: Olimpia, Motagua, Real Espana. Familiarity is clearly their strength.

Interestingly, the team was blighted by troubles until the half-way point of the year.

Between February and early July they played nine matches and won just once. But Pinto was kept in charge and the reward came in the final stretch of qualifiers.

The Colombian oversaw an away win over Trinidad and Tobago, followed by gutsy draws against USA and Costa Rica, and finally – spectacularly – the 3-2 win over Mexico that sealed their place in the play-off on Wednesday (AEDT).

Guillermo Ochoa’s own goal has already gone viral around the world.

It’s the first time Australia has played Honduras at this level, but it’s hard not to think back to the 2000 Olympics, when the Hondurans filleted the Olyroos at the Sydney Football Stadium, winning 2-1.

That’s a long time ago now, but the lessons – of both the past and present – sit right before our eyes.


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5 min read
Published 11 October 2017 at 7:19pm
By Sebastian Hassett