Photo via New York Times
Wednesday saw two highly-anticipated World Cup qualifying matches, one more incredible than the other. Depending on which country you rooted for, you either went to bed with disappointment or utter elation.
For Honduran newspaper La Prensa, love is in the air:
“Like the most beautiful gift in this month of love, the Honduran players showed themselves to be in love with victory and gave a spectacular triumph to catracho supporters after beating the United States 2-1 at the start of the hexagonal Concacaf qualifiers to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
The first step was firm for the Bicolor, a tougher triumph than expected. The national team saw victory was possible after jumping onto the field and went out in search of it after Walter Quesada gave the starting whistle.”
Donning one of the two jerseys I bought outside the stadium in Tegucigalpa, I was rooting for my fellow catrachos. (Usually I’m pulling for Jack Dempsey and the American team, but when there’s a match between my mother’s humble little patria and the good ol’ red-white-and-blue — or any other country, for that matter — I dance punta in my living room whenever Honduras puts one into the net.)
Things looked grim after Dempsey sprung loose and side-footed the ball past goalkeeper Noel Valladares in the 36th minute. I thought maybe Team USA could get by in the approaching World Cup with Landon Donovan, who’s still on sabbatical, perhaps more and more permanently.
Then, just four minutes later, following a corner kick for the Hondurans, defender Juan Carlos García fired a hellish bicycle kick past goalkeeper Tim Howard, leaving him (and most onlookers) stunned.
The catrachos dominated the ball from then on, as Team USA allowed plenty of opportunities for Honduras’ star strikers, Jerry Bengtson and Carlo Costly. One of those chances, in the 79th minute, resulted in a second game-winning goal for Honduras when Bengston tapped the ball into an empty net.
The win puts Honduras one step closer to the World Cup in 2014 and puts pressure on the American team to win its next matches against Costa Rica and Mexico. Only three Concacaf teams will win a direct ticket to next year, with a fourth team having to play the best team of Oceania for its ticket.
One Honduran journalist ended his wrap-up last night with these words: “Celebrate and dream, catrachos.” Indeed.
Fans in Mexico City were booing their team, however, and left the famed Estadio Azteca visibly upset after Chicharito and the gang were unable to tally one goal during the 0-0 draw against Jamaica, thus ending Mexico’s 19-game winning streak at the stadium. (Mexico hadn’t even drawn at the venue since November 1997.)
“I don’t know if this is our worst game, but it’s the one that leaves me more upset, because it was a World Cup qualifier at home,” Mexico manager Jose Manuel De la Torre told reporters after the match. “Sometimes you win ugly, but today we did not do even that.”
As always, Mexico is among the favorites for next year’s World Cup.
The team had plenty of chances to put the ball in the net, with Chicharito heading and kicking crosses that ended up being too wide or too high.
Jamaica nearly scored a goal when Jermaine Johnson sprung loose with the ball in the 68th minute. But with only Jose Corona in his path, Johnson tapped the ball directly at him, giving the keeper an easy save.
For the last 15 minutes, Mexican fans sang “Olé” and cheered feverishly… for the Jamaican side. (Yup. It got that ugly.)
Today’s postmortem: Honduras leads the group of six with three points. Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica and Jamaica are all tied for second with one point apiece. And Team USA is dead last with a big, fat nil.
The second round of matches come in late March. I’ll see you there.