THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

wsc328 previewThe first objective for Honduras fans is that the team scores, which they didn't do at South Africa 2010. The general hope is that they can beat Ecuador and at least draw with Switzerland, which will give them a chance of making progress. In the qualifying campaign Ecuador won all but one of their home ties played at 2,800-metre altitude in the capital, Quito, but failed to win a single away match.

Still, many fans think that the Tri have a good chance of matching their best-ever performance – a second-round appearance against England in 2006 – especially if the two European teams in their group struggle to perform in South American conditions. After Ecuador are out, their fans will support the region's other teams, favouring Brazil.

These two coaches, both originally from Colombia, know plenty about each other's teams. Reinaldo Rueda took Honduras to the 2010 World Cup finals, and was naturalised as Honduran by the country's congress. Government ministers in Ecuador want him to get the same honour, though that will probably depend on the performances. Luis Fernando Suárez took Ecuador to the 2006 finals but was sacked after a couple of thrashings in the latest qualifying tournament, moving on to Honduras in 2011. Every local journalist has their own line-up which tends to differ from his but he remains popular for now.

Antonio Valencia, who still needs an interpreter when speaking to the English press despite his years at Wigan and Manchester United, is the Ecuador team's poster boy, alongside veterans Édison Méndez and Walter Ayoví. Football has become one of the main ways for Afro-Ecuadorians such as these players to be visible in national culture, which tends to focus on white families descended from the Spanish colonial elite. Dynamo Moscow's Christian Noboa, who is from a wealthy background, is also a regular presence in advertising campaigns.

The Honduras squad have been busy selling drinks of various kinds from milk to bottled water and soda, while Wilson Palacios has his own soccer camp for kids in his hometown, La Ceiba. Palacios, who is often very funny, and Maynor Figueroa are among the best interviewees while Carlo Costly gets some media attention for his skills as a pool player. Among the former Honduras players working as TV commentators will be Carlos Pavon, a widely travelled (14 clubs) striker who played at the 2010 World Cup and now works for the US-based Hispanic network Univision.

Expect Ecuador goals to be dedicated to the memory of ex-Birmingham City striker Christian "El Chuco" (The Pooch) Benítez, who died of a heart attack aged 27 while playing in Qatar last year. He was close friends with many in the team and his No 11 shirt has been retired by the Ecuadorian federation. Honduran goal celebrations may involve a dance called punta that comes from the Garifunas, an ethnic group descended from indigenous peoples and west Africans.

Among the 1,000 or so Honduran fans at the finals, the most popular chant is likely to be "Adelante Selección, adelante Selección, pongan garra y corazón" (Let's go team, let's go team, give us your heart). Although Ecuador and Brazil share a border in the Amazonian rainforest, expensive air travel will be the principal route in. Oil and gas wealth has helped expand the Ecuadorian middle-class, so travelling support might be larger than in previous years. As with the goal celebrations, songs are likely to refer to Benítez. Diego Daniel Paz Salgado & Matthew Brown

Related articles

Home And Away: Writing the beautiful game by Karl Ove Knausgaard and Fredrik Ekelund
Harvill & Secker, £18.99Reviewed by Richard MasonFrom WSC 363, May 2017Buy the book The idea behind this book is that two writers, one...
Idols And Underdogs: An anthology of Latin American football fiction
edited by Shawn Stein and Nicolás Campisi Freight Books, £9.99Reviewed by Jethro SoutarFrom WSC 362, April 2017Buy this book As the...