Mexico made an ideal winning start to World Cup qualifying, but its task is set to get a whole lot tougher when making the trip to Honduras on Tuesday. In Juan Carlos Osorio’s debut as coach last Friday, El Tri cruised to a 3-0 victory over an El Salvador side severely weakened by a widespread players strike. A visit to San Pedro Sula in the peak afternoon's heat and humidity, in contrast, is one of the toughest assignments that Concacaf has to offer.
Mexico has failed to capture a win in their last four visits to the city near Honduras’ north-west coast. In Honduras’ last five World Cup qualifiers played at the Estadio Olímpico Metopolitano, Mexico are the only team to emerge without a defeat. Even then, El Tri saw just how challenging the task is, with Honduras fighting back from two goals down to claim a 2-2 draw in March, 2013.
Still, there is also plenty of reason for Mexican optimism. Not least is the form of the man who scored both of El Tri’s goals in San Pedro Sula last time around, Javier “Chicharito” Hernández. Following that brace, Hernández’s form as well as that of his team plummeted. Mexico’s golden boy failed to score an international goal for a year and found himself out of the starting lineup for the 2014 World Cup. But the 27-year-old has dramatically rediscovered his scoring touch following a move to Bayer Leverkusen and the opportunity for regular first-team action this summer.
In his last six appearances for his club, he has eight goals, and he is now just four goals shy of Jared Borgetti’s all-time scoring record for Mexico of 46. Hernández was inches away from going one closer to that mark against El Salvador, but just failed to get a touch to Hector Herrera’s cross, which ended up finding the net anyway. The strike was sandwiched by goals from Andres Guardado and Carlos Vela to provide a reassuringly comfortable start for Osorio, who took the reins following the successful interim spell of Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti. The relief was particularly palpable after Mexico struggled desperately at the famed Estadio Azteca in Mexico City during its last World Cup qualifying campaign, including a 2-1 defeat to Honduras.
The encouraging aspect from Mexico’s point of view is that Honduras’ recent form has been far from impressive. As well as emerging with just a solitary point from three Gold Cup group matches this summer, in its last 11 matches, Honduras has won just once. And on Friday it suffered a poor start to qualifying with a surprising 1-0 defeat to Canada in Vancouver. It means coach Jorge Luis Pinto, who led Costa Rica to the quarterfinals of the 2014 World Cup, is now under huge pressure just to guide Honduras into the final round of Concacaf qualifying.
Only the top two in a four-team group will make it through to the “Hexagonal,” leaving Honduras with little margin for error as they seek a place in their third consecutive World Cup. Pinto may well be tempted to make changes for Tuesday’s encounter, while Mexico coach Osorio has already signaled that he will alter his lineup. One player definitely out is left-back Jorge Torres Nilo, who has suffered an ankle injury.
Prediction: This could well be the time for Mexico to garner its first victory in San Pedro Sula since 1965. Mexico is on a high following on from its victory over the United States last month, while Honduras is really struggling. Osorio is likely to select a slightly more cautious team than the one that lined up against El Salvador, and that should provide the solid base for a narrow win.
Predicted score: Honduras 1-2 Mexico