Honduras got their final round of World Cup qualifying off to a perfect start in front of a fervent home crowd at the Estadio Olimpico as they profited from a late lapse by the United States to grab a 2-1 victory.
In the opening match of the Hexagonal, the U.S. had taken the lead in a hot and humid San Pedro Sula through a fine strike by Clint Dempsey. But Honduras produced an almost instantaneous response with an even better effort by defender Juan Garcia.
The visitors appeared to tire as the second half wore on and defensive horror show with 11 minutes remaining saw Honduras secure a potentially all-important three points through Jerry Bengston.
With the U.S. playing three of their first four games away from home, this was not the start Jurgen Klinsmann wanted as he seeks to put the U.S.’ struggles of the previous round behind them.
It was never going to be easy, though, against a Honduras side featuring many of the players that represented them at the last World Cup and in an intense atmosphere on what had been declared a national holiday.
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Honduras started the brighter and should have taken the lead, but failed to take advantage of some slack U.S. defending, with Carlos Costly unable to beat Tim Howard.
The U.S. responded as Eddie Johnson went close with a header over from a corner before his cross required a fine defensive intervention to prevent the ball reaching Jozy Altidore for a simple finish.
It was Honduras that were having better possession though, with Klinsmann’s side unable to get effective pressure on the ball. The U.S. were grateful to Howard for a couple of impressive saves from Honduras forward Mario Roberto Martinez.
Perhaps slightly against the run of play, it was the U.S. that took the lead with 36 minutes on the clock.
Jermaine Jones chipped the ball over a Honduras defense that was slow to turn allowing both Johnson and Clint Dempsey to get in behind. It was the Tottenham man whose Jones’ pass fell to and Dempsey met it with a volley of perfect technique to send the ball across goal and into the net.
It would be a lead that would last just four minutes as Honduras produced a spectacular response. After a left-wing corner drifted over every one, the ball was put back into the box and headed onto the edge of the six-yard box where Juan Garcia reacted better than the U.S. defense and met it with a stunning overhead kick past Howard.
The U.S. started to gain an element of superiority fort the first time after the break with some good possession play in the midfield. Michael Bradley was particularly influential
The Roma midfielder had a good chance fall his way as the ball broke to him on the edge of the box, but his effort was deflected wide.
After Honduras had an effort correctly ruled out for offside, Bradley created the U.S.’ best chance of the second half.
Garica, goal scorer at one end, was also crucial in denying the U.S. a go-ahead goal midway through the second period. Dempsey looked to have a clean strike on goal after being played through by Bradley, but Garcia stuck out a leg to block the Tottenham man’s shot magnificently.
Klinsmann made all three changes by the halfway point of the second period, yet they still appeared to be struggling as the match approached its closing stages.
Costly headed a decent chance wide from 12 yards out moments before Oscar Boniek Garcia drilled an effort past the post from the edge of the box.
It appeared to be tired minds in the U.S. back line that contributed to Honduras’ late winner. Geoff Cameron made the first mistake as he failed to clear the ball, allowing Boniek Garcia to stretch ahead of Howard and scrape the ball across the box and Omar Gonzalez inexplicably hesitated in running back and Bengston was able to fire into the empty net.
Honduras were able to keep possession well to play out the clock and when a late U.S. corner came to nothing the referee blew the final whistle.