He and his family came to the United States when he was 12 and he slowly worked his way up to Major League Soccer through the college game. At Sporting Kansas City, he impressed with his work rate, technique and distribution from deep. Soon enough, he’d earned himself a transfer to Wigan Athletic, then of the Premier League and now of the Championship, where he remains as perhaps his country’s best player. Had the United States come calling sooner, the 27-year-old Espinoza says, he might have suited up for his adopted country. But they didn’t, so instead he plays for his birth country.
Los Catrachos acquitted themselves well in their first World Cup foray in 1982 despite finishing bottom of their group, and then waited 28 years for another chance to grace the tournament again. The second journey in South Africa ended a bit more abruptly, with defeats to Chile and Spain and a draw with Switzerland.
Getty ImagesEzra Shaw
The lithe Andy Najar is, on sheer physique, hardly noticeable out on the right flank. Yet behind the smiley face of the speedy Anderlecht player, who can play anywhere on that flank, is hidden a powerful story. At just 13, Najar fled the poverty of his village in Honduras, was smuggled through Mexico and walked over the American border, where he hoped to reunite with his family in Northern Virginia. In spite of the risk, he managed. One day, playing pickup soccer outside his high school, the illegal immigrant was spotted by one of the school’s soccer coaches. Soon enough, he was on the team. And not long thereafter, he had been snapped up by DC United’s academy. Once he’d acquired legal residency, he turned pro at 17. After three seasons and a rookie of the year award, he left for the Belgian league, where he has become a regular. Still only 21, Najar is one to watch, if only for his amazing back story.
Getty ImagesGeorge Frey
How they got here
There were a few tense moments in the third round, but an 8-1 victory over Canada dispelled the lingering issues on the final day. Luis Fernando Suárez's outfit adhered to the fundamental tenets of the Hexagonal to claim one of the three guaranteed berths out of CONCACAF: Focus on the home business first, then snatch points on the road to make the journey more comfortable. The unblemished record included a critical 1-0 victory over Costa Rica during the penultimate round to essentially secure qualification.
Favorable. It isn’t for nothing that Group E is considered one of the softest at the World Cup. Honduras is in it, for one. But so are Switzerland and Ecuador, making France the only major country in that group, and they’re a mercurial one at that. In perhaps no other configuration of opponents might Honduras have even stood a chance. But even now, they are slim.
AFP/Getty ImagesNELSON ALMEIDA
Round of 16 prospects
Tricky. Should Honduras advance, which would be a coup in itself, they would face somebody from Group F, consisting of Argentina, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Iran and Nigera. Provided it’s not Argentina, Honduras would have a shot, but again, they’d be underdogs.
Action Images / ReutersDAVE KAUP
Suárez cobbled together a committed, resolute side greater than the sum of its individual parts to claim a World Cup berth. Espínoza strings everything together with his industrious link play in central midfield, but the pieces around him simply aren't sturdy enough to withstand the rigors of the group stage. With both goals and shutouts likely at a premium against more rigorous foes, Honduras will probably depart from Brazil after three matches.