TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — Luis Fernando Suarez made history when he guided Ecuador to the round of 16 at the 2006 World Cup, and the Colombian has already achieved considerable success with Honduras just by qualifying for this year's tournament.
Suarez became Honduras coach in March 2011 and has helped oversee a generational change, with all-time top scorer Carlos Pavon and veteran Amado Guevara making way for younger players.
The results have seen Honduras achieve a famous victory at Mexico in World Cup qualifying, while a younger team defeated Spain at the 2012 Olympics and narrowly lost to Brazil in the quarterfinals — all under Suarez's management.
"In Ecuador and Honduras I cleaned out the players that believed that they were more important than the team," Suarez said.
Suarez became a hero in Ecuador after the 2006 World Cup in Germany, with the South American team losing to England in the round of 16 after David Beckham scored from a free kick. But when Ecuador struggled in 2010 World Cup qualifying and lost to Paraguay 5-1 in November 2007, Suarez was forced to resign.
"There are times you can't reach the objective, despite the effort," an emotional Suarez said after the match.
Suarez has crafted a Honduras side that is physically strong, compact and dangerous from set pieces and on counterattacks.
The team is one of the rank outsiders to win the World Cup — behind Algeria and Iran, according to some bookmakers — but Suarez is confident his side can pull off an upset in a group containing France, Switzerland and Ecuador.
"We are very optimistic," Suarez said. "They look at our football as exotic and strange, something which is normal because we've only just qualified (for the World Cup) on consecutive occasions.
"It's time to take the next step."
Honduras opens its World Cup campaign against France in Porto Alegre on June 15, then plays Ecuador on June 20 in Curitiba and ends the group stage against Switzerland in Manaus on June 25.
Suarez tends to play a 4-4-2 formation and did so last September when his team defeated Mexico 2-1 at Estadio Azteca to hand Mexico only its second home loss in World Cup qualifying.
The combination of two tall center forwards — usually Carlos Costly and Jerry Bengtson — gives Suarez's team an aerial outlet if the normal passing game isn't working.
The coach has said he dreams of defeating France and achieving the same thing with Honduras as he did with Ecuador, although picking up the Central American nation's first win in its third World Cup would be a major accomplishment and further boost Suarez's reputation.