A passage to South Africa

The United States qualified for the World Cup last night by defeating Honduras 3-2 in San Pedro Sula. The Washington Post’s Steven Goff, an outstanding soccer writer, describes the match as “one of the most gripping U.S. qualifiers in recent memory.” I’ll have to take his word for it; the match was not available on the television in the U.S. except at a few sports bars. I no longer do bars at 10:00 p.m.
U.S. players and those traveling with them usually face a tough time of it in Central America. The night before the match, fans typically will attempt to disrupt the players’ sleep. As they enter the field, the players may have bags of urine hurled at them. But according to Goff — whose descrptions of the political situation in Honduras have been more objective than those of the Post as a whole — the Americans “encountered few rude gestures in Honduras.” Instead, he reports, Hondurans celebrated their team, “happy to be able to forget about politics for a few hour.”
The match was scoreless after the first half, but Honduras took the lead early in the second. The U.S. then came back with goals from Connor Casey, last seen on these pages terrorizing Everton’s defense during an exhibition match this summer, and one from Landon Donovan (at the time I noted how good Casey and/or Donovan would look in Everton’s Royal Blue Jersety). Casey, who had never scored for the U.S. in 14 preveious appearances, proved his worth as an old-fashioned but versatile Number 9 with one goal from a barging header and another with a calmly slotted shot from a Donovan through ball. Donovan’s goal came from superb free kick.
Honduras countered with a goal and the U.S. then survived several near Honduran misses, including a failed penalty kick and a would-be goal that was disallowed (correctly according to Goff) for offsides.
So the U.S. is through to South Africa. For Honduras, the road is extremely uncertain. Honduras would qualify this week with a win in El Salvador combined with a U.S. win or draw in our match with Costa Rica here in Washington. But El Salvador can be tough at home, and the U.S. has little to play for now. If things don’t break Honduras’ way this week, the “Catrachos” can still qualify by winnng a wild-card home-and-away match against a South American team. But the South American side would probably be the favorite in such a contest.
In any case, the U.S. will be making its sixth straight appearance at the Word Cup finals and has had some success when, as in 2010, the tournament is held outside of Europe.

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