Honduras reached the finals of the FIFA World Cup™ for only the second time in dramatic fashion, an equaliser in the dying seconds of the USA's clash with Costa Rica triggering frantic celebrations from Los Catrachos' fans thousands of miles further south. Yet despite having squeezed into the finals, coach Reinaldo Rueda's talented team will not be going to South Africa just to make up the numbers.
The road to South Africa
Rueda's men dug deep from the off to oust Puerto Rico 6-2 on aggregate to progress to the penultimate round of North, Central America and Caribbean Zone qualifying. Once there they successfully negotiated a tricky section to qualifying for the final six-team Hexagonal round ahead of Mexico, Jamaica and Canada.
The decisive final phase could barely have got off to a worse start, however, with La Bicolor sinking to a 2-0 reverse away to fierce rivals Costa Rica. A 1-1 draw in Trinidad and Tobago and a 3-1 home win over mighty Mexico got their bid back on track, only for Honduras to suffer a narrow 2-1 defeat in the United States. A run which included wins over El Salvador (1-0), Costa Rica (4-0) and Trinidad and Tobago (4-1) and a 1-0 reverse on Mexican soil then gave Los Catrachos the opportunity to clinch their passage to South Africa in the penultimate round of qualifying against the USA.
Wasteful finishing and a resilient Stars and Stripes display contributed to a 3-2 reverse in San Pedro Sula, which meant that Honduras now had to win their final match in El Salvador and hope for a favourable result between United States-Costa Rica. And despite having clinched a 1-0 win in San Salvador, the Hondurans would have missed out on direct qualification had it not been for that last-gasp American equaliser.
The star players
Over and above the country's big-name stars plying their trade in the European game, Los Catrachos' key man in qualifying was evergreen 36-year-old forward Carlos Pavon. In typically clinical fashion, it was the well-travelled goalgetter who fired his side's winner in El Salvador to ensure their place at the African showpiece. Aided and abetted by the hugely talented David Suazo, Wilson Palacios, Julio Leon and Amado Guevara, Pavon would love nothing more than to crown his glorious international career with a goal-laden showing on the biggest stage of all.
For Honduras, qualifying phases for the FIFA World Cup qualifying had become something of a recurring nightmare. Always among the pre-event favourites, La Bicolor invariably contrived to fall short at key moments - that is until the arrival of 42-year-old Colombian strategist Rueda.
After taking the job in early 2007, his professionalism struck a chord with the powers that be in Honduran football, who gave him the time to work denied many of his predecessors. Rueda repaid that faith by guiding his adopted country to South Africa 2010 on the back of sparkling attacking football and a solid backline.
Previous FIFA World Cups
• Honduras return to global football's top table after 28 years away. Their only previous appearance at the finals came at Spain 1982.
• Under the watchful eye of then coach Jose de la Paz, Los Catrachos surprised the world by drawing 1-1 with the hosts and then with Northern Ireland, before exiting the tournament after conceding a late goal in a 1-0 defeat by the former Yugoslavia.
• On the scoresheet for Honduras at that FIFA World Cup were Hector Zelaya and Antonio Laing, against Spain and Northern Ireland respectively.
• Prior to the 3-2 defeat by the United States in San Pedro Sula, Honduras had racked up an eight-game unbeaten home run in South Africa 2010 qualifying.
• Honduras conceded just 11 goals in the final Hexagonal, the best defensive record in the section.
• Veteran sharpshooter Pavon was Los Catrachos' most prolific scorer in qualifying, helping himself to an impressive seven goals in nine appearances.
What they said
"Nobody could believe it. Our game ended and we were all dejected, then we saw the row the fans were making and we realised that the USA had equalised against Costa Rica. We're so happy to be going to South Africa and we're not going to let down all those people who believed in us." Honduras striker Carlos Pavon after his team booked their passage to the 2010 showpiece.