Gold Cup: Honduras optimistic despite loss to Mexico

HOUSTON — Honduras were agonizingly close to pulling off what likely would have been the biggest upset of the tournament had they defeated Mexico in Wednesday night’s Gold Cup semifinal match at Reliant Stadium.

Instead, los Catrachos became victim No. 5 for El Tri, who won 2-0 in extra time to book a ticket to face the United States in the final.

However, Honduras played as well — and at times better — than Mexico for 90 minutes. Their 4-5-1 formation, which at times shifted into a 4-4-2 and even a 4-3-3 when on attack, proved effective at containing El Tri and near the final whistle, a blistering shot from Roger Espinoza seemed destined to kiss the net had Tri ‘keeper Alfredo Talavera not made a fantastic flying save.

“I think the game was very even at times,” said midfielder Ramón Núñez after the match. “Apart from the goals, I think Mexico had very few chances. We maintained a good tactical block but unfortunately that wasn’t enough.”

In the end, faulty finishing, shaky defending on set-pieces, and a dash of inexperience doomed Honduras.

“We were focused for 90 minutes, but we needed 120,” said Honduras head coach Luis Fernando Suárez.

“The last three goals they’ve scored on us have been from set pieces, from corner kicks,” he added. “We still have to work on that. … We have to be more aware. That’s how Costa Rica tied us and Mexico’s goals also came that way.

“[But] I liked, in particular, how the team carried out our tactics. Our set up was good, we marked aggressively, and later made an effort to keep the ball. We just lacked finishing.”

Despite the tough defeat, los Catrachos carry a bevy of positives out of their Gold Cup performance.

Still very much a team in transition — Suárez was appointed as the head coach in March to lead their charge to Brazil 2014 — Honduras’ main objective was for the coach to get to know his players, and for the players to get to know their new coach and the style he wants to instill in the team ahead of the World Cup qualifiers.

“I think it was a very enriching experience,” said Suárez. “The idea was to get to know this group. I think they showed me a bunch of things, for better or worse, but mostly for the better. So I’m left with a very interesting and important database for what lies ahead.

“I’m satisfied with what I saw. I think there’s still a lot of work to do. There are still players I’ve yet to have like Maynor Figueroa, Emilio Izaguirre, David Suazo and many others that we couldn’t count on and that makes me picture a promising future.”

Nevertheless, that doesn’t take away from the fact that the defeat left a bitter taste in the mouth of an Honduras team that came in hoping to challenge for the title.

“[The loss] was a bit bitter,” said Núñez. “Obviously, we wanted to reach the final. We didn’t get there, but we did walk away with some positives. I think we’re learning. I think we’re getting better. Our ultimate goal is to qualify for the World Cup and that’s what we’re hoping for.”

Added Suárez, “I’m conscious there’s still plenty of work to be done, but I think we’ve got the people. With time and with games we’ll have before the qualifiers, I think we’ll be able to breathe easy.”