by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 20th 2014)
“Rueda is a nice man”, says Hondurasʼ coach Luis Fernando Suárez about his predecessor and opponent tonight Reinaldo Rueda Rivera. Tonight they must put aside their friendship as they aim to tear down what the other built. Suárez coached Ecuador eight years ago at the World Cup. They failed to reach the second round.
And four years ago Rueda led Honduras to South Africaʼs World Cup – the first time in almost three decades that the Central America nation had reached the World Cup.
They are in the opposite dugouts tonight, knowing that if they win it will send the loserʼs team home and quite possibly earn him the sack. The friendship and respect that the two Colombian coaches have for each other is obvious, but for two hours they will ploy each otherʼs downfall. Tonight they are the best of enemies.
“There is no South American style,” Rueda said in Miami. It is a sentiment echoed by Suárez regarding Central American football. Despite their origins and friendship their styles are different. Suárez favours the rugged defensive philosophy, knocking opponents out of their comfort zone literally, whereas Ruedaʼs is a more attractive counter-attacking style of football.
Ecuador endured conceding a last minute winner to Switzerland, while a ten man Honduras were outclassed by France. There is much at stake but the coaches know each other and each otherʼs players very well. They could cancel each other out.
“There is no Central American style”, Suárez said. “Being Colombian has nothing to do with it. I respect the type of football the Hondurans play. Itʼs fast and strong. There is not a specific style in Central America. The Colombian coaches have not changed the style. We only implement tactics. The way the Colombian coaches work is with tactics”.
Suárez was keen to acknowledge that the credit for the recent achievements of the Honduran national team belongs to his rival for the night. “All the credit for what Honduras has become now does not belong to me,” Suárez said. “I only followed what Rueda did four years ago. When I came to Honduras, Rueda gave me the benefit of his experience”.
Rueda was exceptionally generous in helping Suárez to adapt. “All the credit for what Honduras has become now does not belong to me,” Suárez said. “We talked about how to treat the players, how to treat the Hondurans. I learned the culture. Before I came I learned the culture and about the country to get closer to the team, so it became easier for me to transmit my knowledge to them of my previous work in Ecuador”.
Suárezʼ players match the coach in their high regard for their former coach. “I think Professor Reinaldo Rueda is a very good coach and my opinion is I like his football”, Juan Carlos García said in Miami. “He likes to keep the ball – football for the underdog. My opinion is that the national team is very important to him. We respect everyone, but we donʼt respect anyone more than our team”.
Suárez has no doubt what is wanted and required. “The first thing I learned from the players when I came here was that the only thing they wanted to do was qualify for the World Cup”, he said. “The history is the same, because in 2006 Ecuador wanted to qualify for the World Cup and itʼs the same with Honduras”. With that achieved more is demanded. “Honduras has never reached the second round, but with my experience of 2006 I will try to utilise the knowledge I gained there with this squad to try to reach the next stage”.
Ruedaʼs priority is the World Cup and qualifying for the second round. His newly appointed captain Enner Valencia Lastra felt a message had been sent to the world in Miami. “If he [Roy Hodgson] didn’t know, now he knows us a little more and hopefully we can play against him in the World Cup too” Valencia said, clearly looking to qualify for the knock-out stages.
His team-mate Michael Arroyo Mina left no doubt that they intend to do well, although his failure to get his shot away in injury time had dire consequences in the opening match against Switzerland. “I believe that today he [Hodgson] found out about Ecuador – a team that has very important players and that will fight at the World Cup”. Theyʼll have to against Honduras.
“A lot of Honduras players play abroad”, Celticʼs Emilio Izaguirre Girón said. “We play in British. We try to compete for the World Cup not for friendly games. I play too many games against Ecuador”. But none was as important as this match. Both nationsʼ World Cup hopes are at stake.
“We know what we are capable of”, striker Roger Espinoza Ramírez said. “We know we have a great team and we are going to do well”. He is looking forward to another clash with old friends with whom they are ʻvery familiarʼ. “We have played each other and we tied too, so itʼs a tactical game”, Wigan Athleticʼs Espinoza said. “At the end of the day itʼs a very tactical game and I think that the team that is the smartest is going to win”.
His confidence matches his ambition. “To go to the next round and as far as we can go, but for me itʼs the final”.