If Honduras are to have any hope of progressing past to reach the 2018 World Cup in Russia, much will depend upon their answer to Tim Cahill.
While sweats on the fitness of their greatest goal-scorer, the Honduran public are pleading with coach Jorge Luis Pinto to unleash the nation’s own hero, 35-year-old Carlo Costly.
The veteran centre-forward is a national icon in Honduras. He is descended from football royalty, etched his status as a national team specialist and consistently delivers for Los Catrachos when they need him most. Most importantly, he refuses to retire from international football despite several attempts from Pinto to phase him out.
After a short cameo off the bench against the Socceroos in San Pedro Sula provided Honduras’ best chance of the match – a powerful shot that tested goalkeeper Mat Ryan – there’s a groundswell of support among fans for Costly to be given a greater role in the second leg. It hasn’t gone unnoticed by Pinto.
“Carlo Costly is a centre forward, a No.9. I am going to see what is the best way to exploit his abilities,” he said at the pre-match press conference.
It was the only time Honduras looked like scoring and on the back of his history with the national team, there’s a chance he will be thrown into the contest much earlier.
Much like Cahill’s role with , Costly has become Honduras’ go-to man. He sits fourth in the country’s all-time goal-scoring charts, having hit the back of the net 32 times in 77 appearances. If he continues this ratio, he could require just eight more games to move to outright second.
More importantly are the games where he hits the back of the net. Thirteen have come in World Cup qualifiers – including a double in a rare win over Mexico. Eight times he has scored in the CONCACAF Gold Cup and most importantly, netting his country’s only goal of their past two World Cup campaigns and their first World Cup goal in 32 years.
Costly scored the first goal in Honduras’ 2-1 loss to Ecuador in Brazil in 2014 and had it not been for an injury on the eve of the tournament, he would have been part of the squad for South Africa in 2010. Had that not been the case, every Honduras squad for a World Cup would have included a Costly; his father Allan Anthony was a defender in Honduras’ 1982 World Cup squad.
However, it’s Costly jnr who has become the more prominent face of Honduran football. His club career has been one of a journeyman, having had 12 employees from Poland, Mexico, the US, China, Turkey, England and his native country. It’s been largely nomadic with his priority always being the national team. Pinto attempted to phase him out of the squad in favour of younger players performing more consistently at their clubs, but public support and Costly’s form for the national side made that impossible.
In the same way the locals believe in curses of their national team and stadium, Costly is a superstitious player. He always plays while chewing a white or blue piece of plastic that is said to be give him luck.
For all the young, quick, mobile forwards in the Hondurans team, the direct approach of Costly is the one fans find most reliable. As Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou is set to turn towards Cahill on Wednesday night, Pinto is facing increasing public pressure to use Honduras’ idolised veteran during their hour of need.