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WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S.A. – No player has scored more goals for Honduras than Carlos Pavón. But American defender Jonathan Bornstein may have scored the biggest goal in the nation’s history.
Honduras, needing a win over El Salvador and at worst a USA draw with Costa Rica in the final qualifying game, a berth in World Cup looked bleak. Los Ticos jumped out to a 2-0 lead on the Americans, while the Hondurans struggled to score against El Salvador.
Bornstein, however, ultimately headed home the equalizer in the fourth minute of stoppage time and, combined with a Pavón tally in the 64th minute against El Salvador, Honduras claimed a 1-0 victory and the tiebreaker via goal differential over Costa Rica.
Honduras’ 28-year World Cup drought was over.
“This is unforgettable, we’re so happy, we can't find the words to describe how we feel. It was tough going but Honduras deserves it,” Pavón told FIFA.com. “We were dejected, then we suddenly saw the fans celebrating in the stands. We wondered what was going on, then we found out the Americans had equalized. We just started running around and celebrating as we deserved to go to the World Cup.”
It also was a moment of relief for Pavón, who just four days earlier put a penalty kick over the crossbar that would have earned a draw with the Americans and taken much of the drama out of the final match. But for the 36-year-old from the northern city of El Progreso, it doesn’t get much bigger than securing his homeland's second World Cup berth – an accomplishment so huge then-interim President Roberto Micheletti declared the next day, Oct. 15, a national holiday.
In its only trip to soccer’s biggest stage in 1982, Los Catrachos failed to advance past the first round, but they did tie host Spain, 1-1, in a game that still resonates in this country of about 7.8 million nearly three decades after the final whistle.
“That tells you how big soccer is in Honduras – people still talk about ’82,” midfielder Roger Espinoza, who plays for the United States’ Kansas City Wizards, told ESPN.com. “I wasn’t even born then, but they talk about how we tied Spain in the World Cup. They talk about how Honduras played really well.”
But Los Catrachos expect to play even better in South Africa. Honduras, ranked 40th by FIFA, opens Group H play on June 16 against 15th-ranked Chile, followed by a match against second-ranked Spain on June 21, before concluding the group stage four days later against 26th-ranked Switzerland. Still, Honduras – one of the tournament’s biggest underdogs at 500-1 to win it all – will be fueled as much by the passion of their soccer-crazed fans as talent, considering it’s the lowest-ranked team in its group.
“To this day I get e-mail messages saying thank you for the goal, without you we wouldn’t be in the World Cup,” Bornstein told ESPN.com.
But Hondurans are counting on Pavón to deliver glory. Pavón, who has 57 goals in 98 appearances for the national team, led the squad in CONCACAF qualifying with seven goals. But he may have to be even better next month, as the team’s second-leading scorer, Carlos Costly (six goals), a forward with the Romanian team FC Vaslui, is expected to miss the tournament with a broken right foot.
It places even more of a scoring burden on Pavón, who plays for the Honduran club Real Club Deportivo España, and fellow striker David Suazo (four goals), who plays for Italy’s Genoa. But Honduras advanced to the World Cup because of its defense, not its offense. Los Catrachos, led by goalie Noel Valladares and defender Maynor Figueroa, allowed a CONCACAF-low 11 goals in 10 games.
Now, Los Catrachos wants to prove it belongs in South Africa – and emerge from a shadow cast by the 1982 squad that’s as long as the nation’s West Bay Beach.
“We were getting tired of hearing the same old story over and over again for 27 years,” Figueroa told FIFA.com. “It was getting to us. But in reaching the second World Cup in the country’s history, we haven’t changed the story so much as added a new chapter to it.”