After a highest-ever finish in the qualifying stage and a kind group draw, Chileans are optimistic of at least a second-round place. However, preparations were badly affected by the earthquake in Concepción, which caused the cancellation of two friendlies. Meanwhile, Chile and Switzerland are both seen as countries that Honduras could take points off. With several experienced forwards, the side will represent an attacking threat backed up by playmaker and captain Amado Guevara. However, a 1-0 home defeat to Venezuela in the team’s farewell game in April has tempered that optimism.

Last year, there was a campaign to get national coach Marcelo Bielsa to run for the presidency of Chile. Bearing in mind that he’s Argentine (the two countries don’t get on, to put it mildly) this is a sign of his huge popularity. Michelle Bachelet, ex-president of Chile, remarked: “Bielsa is an attractive and interesting man. He’s got a combination of being both good-looking and mysterious, which women find fatal.”

Colombian Reinaldo Rueda was honoured with Honduran nationality prior to the Venezuelan friendly. After being sent off in Honduras’ final game in El Salvador (a vital 1-0 victory), he prayed for (and got) a US equaliser against Costa Rica that gained Honduras automatic qualification, an event he proclaimed as “the best reward for all the warmth that the Honduran people have shown to me and the national team”.

Signing for or trying to sign for Wigan Athletic seems to be the principal business interest of Honduran players although Roger Espinoza loves “snowboarding and ice-fishing” – uncommon pastimes in central America.

Guevara became embroiled in a row when he sent a signed Honduran team shirt to exiled former president Manuel Zelaya last year. Zelaya duly posed with the shirt to gain some political capital, but Guevara then claimed the shirt had been sent to Zelaya by his mother, Flor, an aspiring politician and vocal opponent of the military coup that ousted the democratically elected president in June 2009.

Honduran goal celebrations will centre around unrehearsed dances at the corner flag. Carlos Costly’s occasional slow trot, like a lame pantomime horse, has always looked like a work in progress. Chile’s main striker Humberto Suazo has taken to dedicating his goals to the victims of the Concepción earthquake, who have also received a lot of support from midfielder Alexis Sánchez through his Facebook page.

Former Chile striker Iván Zamorano has just signed up as a TV pundit, but many in Chile suspect he’s simply desperate to get whatever publicity he can for his failing business ventures. His former strike partner Marcelo Salas was meant to join him in the studio, but turned down the opportunity, thus depriving his country of some potentially amusing moments – the two were never quite the best of friends. In Honduras, former player Carlos Prono joined a chorus of journalists calling for keeper Melvin Valladeres to be dropped after a run of poor form. That’s about as controversial as it’s likely to get given that six Honduran journalists have been murdered in recent months after reporting on organised crime or human rights violations. 

Around 5,000 Chile fans are expected to travel. The most easily picked-out chant is the highly original Chi-Chi-Chi-lay-lay-lay. With a poverty rate of almost 60 per cent and the high costs of attending this year’s tournament, the Honduran fan presence is expected to be small to non-existent. Sam Kelly & Juan Lotez 

Related articles

Concern in Chile with popular coach’s future unclear
Head of Chilean Football Federation resigned during defeat by Uruguay 19 November ~ Tuesday evening’s 2018 World Cup qualifier between Uruguay and...
Weak Brazil aim to avoid more national embarrassment
Neymar, Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez all missing from South American World Cup qualifiers 7 October ~ Tomorrow evening sees South America begin...