OVERLAND PARK, Kan. – In a sense, the pressure is off Andy Najar and his teammates on the Honduran Olympic team.
No matter the result of Monday night’s CONCACAF qualifying tournament final at Livestrong Sporting Park (8 pm ET, Telemundo, CONCACAF.com), Honduras and Mexico are both in the London Games this summer. And with each side already guaranteed a bye into the Olympic quarterfinals, there’s no extra advantage to be gained by winning.
There’s still a good deal of pride at stake, though, and D.C. United’s young right winger would like to see his side earn regional bragging rights by taking down the Mexican powerhouse that blanked them 3-0 in group play.
“It’s a very important game for me, to play against Mexico,” Najar told MLSsoccer.com before Sunday’s training session. “We’re going to have to play a better game than we did in California.”
The Hondurans earned high marks from Mexican coach Luis Fernando Tena, whose side advanced to the final with a 3-1 victory over Canada in Saturday’s other semifinal.
“They already showed us they’re a tough team, even though we beat them 3-0,” Tena said through an interpreter in the postgame news conference. “We struggled against them the first 15 minutes. They’re not a team that we can take lightly.”
Najar said a loss of focus led to Honduras’ fall-off in the initial meeting.
“The first 15 minutes, we were better than them,” he said. “Then we lost concentration; Mexico had the ball all the time.”
Honduras will need to avoid any similar lapses on Monday to have any shot at the upset, Najar said.
“We have to maintain concentration the whole time,” he said. “If we don’t, they’re going to destroy us.”
Mexico have no intention of easing off in the final, American-born midfielder Miguel Ángel Ponce said on Saturday night.
“We don’t have to relax,” said Ponce, who scored Mexico’s final goal against Canada. “We’re in the Olympics, but we have another important game and we have to do a nice job.”
Fatigue could be a factor in the game, with Honduras coming off a thrilling 3-2 extra-time victory over El Salvador. That game saw three goals – two by Honduran substitute Gerson Rodas – scored after the end of regulation.
“We still have to go out and play tomorrow, and we’re going to need everyone playing like they did yesterday,” Najar said. “I don’t know about being tired. We’ll just have to go out and see what’s going to happen.”