Only one match separates Mexico and Honduras from reaching the Gold Cup final. And to get there, one team must go through the other in the main event of a two-game double-header on Wednesday night in Houston’s Reliant Stadium.
Mexico were a little troubled by Guatemala last time out, but they managed to win that quarterfinal game 2-1 and simply blew through the group phase, outscoring opponents 14-1.
Honduras, meanwhile, barely squeezed through to the quarterfinals, where they resorted to penalty kicks to beat Costa Rica for a ticket to the semis.
On paper, it seems that El Tri should have no problem disposing of los Catrachos for a right to dispute the final at the Rose Bowl. But soccer is soccer and the story is never written until the whistle sounds.
Looks can be deceiving. Sure, Honduras haven’t exactly steamrolled the opposition in the Gold Cup thus far — except for the 7-1 beating they gave Grenada — but they can upset any other team on any given day. To beat Mexico, though, they’ll have to be close to perfect.
“You beat Mexico by playing well,” said defender Roger Espinoza. “They’re top level players and we’ll try to play well. We’ve got good players.”
Los Catrachos have been hampered a bit by injuries to key players such as Wilson Palacios and Carlo Costly, both who saw substitute appearances against Costa Rica. With a few days to mend, the duo will be vital to guiding Honduras to victory, especially Costly, who’s speed and power are quite a headache for opposing defenders.
But perhaps the key for Honduras lies also lies in a quick start. Guatemala showed that scoring first and early against Mexico can throw them off their game a bit, and with a deadly attack that also includes Jerry Bengston, los Catrachos have the capability of striking early and launching lethal counters.
There’s no denying that while Mexico’s midfield and defensive lines look pretty solid, it’s definitely attack that causes opponents to tremble with fear. Henceforth, manager José Manuel de la Torre’s philosophy will probably be one of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Spearheaded by Gold Cup scoring leader Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, the front line also includes slippery Giovani dos Santos, who can set up goals just as easily as he can score. However, crucial to Mexico’s success will likely be Andrés Guardado and Pablo Barrera, the speedy wingers charged with exploiting the flanks to send in deadly crosses or finding some wiggle room to dart into the box for chances of their own.
Perhaps the biggest question is in defense, where Rafa Márquez is still bothered by an Achilles heel problem. Nevertheless, the veteran central defender will likely tough it out to partner up with young Héctor Moreno, who flubbed on a clearance against Guatemala that resulted in Carlos Ruiz’s goal and some desperate times for El Tri.
With a game standing between them and the final, Mexico are fully focused.
“[Honduras will] be just as or maybe even more difficult than Guatemala,” said Márquez. “Honduras is physically stronger and technically [better], too, which is what makes them more difficult.”
Honduras: Carlo Costly
The big striker missed the majority of the match against Costa Rica due to injury, but Honduras can’t afford not to have Costly partnering up with Bengston from the start against Mexico, especially if he can hit in the blink of an eye.
Mexico: Javier “Chicharito” Hernández
The Manchester United forward is clearly Mexico’s biggest weapon. Seemingly destined to find the net each time out, Hernández is making a name for himself as an effective striker and failure to keep him off the ball could prove harmful for Honduras.
Mexico — Alfredo Talavera, Carlos Salcido, Héctor Moreno, Rafa Márquez, Efraín Juárez, Andrés Guardado, Gerardo Torrado, Israel Castro, Pablo Barrera, Giovani dos Santos, Javier Hernández
Honduras — Noel Valladares, Juan Carlos García, Mauricio Sabillón, Oscar García, Víctor Bernardez, Osmán Chávez, Alfredo Mejía, Roger Espinoza, Javier Portillo, Carlo Costlo, Jerry Bengston