LONDON – Honduras’ biggest legacy in world football has been related to bloodshed. Now, the country’s players see the Olympics as the chance to finally create a positive tradition for the team.
The 1969 “Soccer War” between Honduras and El Salvador, fought over disputed territory, erupted after a World Cup qualifier, when fans from both countries attacked each other. Thousands were killed in the brief conflict.
Since then, Honduras has usually flopped at tournaments. But a young crop of players believe they will be a dark horse at the London Games. The small Central American country is in Group D with Spain, among the favourites to win a medal, and Japan and Morocco.
“We want to break this curse where some state we cannot advance past the first round,” Honduras goalkeeper Jose Mendoza said. “Our first objective is to qualify for the next round, so we can go for a medal.”
The pursuit of greatness has lasted for decades. The Hondurans have been to only two World Cups, in 1982 and 2010, finishing last in their group both times and not winning a match at either tournament.
There have been fleeting moments of glory, including winning the 1981 CONCACAF Championship on home soil. Los Catrachos also came close at the 2001 Copa America, finishing third.
But in general, Honduras has floundered on the huge stage.
Honduras coach Luis Fernando Suarez’s mission has been to change that and transform his team into a contender at the Olympics.
Suarez, who last year took over as both coach of the Olympic team and the national team, has done it before. The veteran Colombian coach led Ecuador to the last 16 at the 2006 World Cup, and the South American country exited the tournament with pride.
Now, his Honduras players dream of going a few steps further. The team built up confidence at a pre-tournament training camp in Austria, beating qualified teams Gabon, United Arab Emirates and Egypt in warm-up matches.
“It seems there are some good signs,” Suarez said. “If we have a good Olympic tournament, it is because all (this preparation) has helped us to do it.”
Before heading to Europe, Suarez also led a few training sessions on a beach in Honduras in an effort to build team spirit.
“This team has great mental strength and we can triumph,” Honduras forward Anthony Lozano said.
In London, Honduras will be counting on the experience of Maynor Figueroa, a left back for Premier League club Wigan who was a member of the 2010 World Cup squad. Figueroa, who once scored what some called the “goal of the season” in 2009-10 with a free kick from his own half against Stoke, is one of the three overage players in the Olympic squad.
The other two are MLS players Jerry Bengtson, a forward who just joined New England Revolution and capped his debut with a goal against the New York Red Bulls on July 8, and Sporting Kansas City midfielder Roger Espinoza. D.C. United midfielder Andy Najar, who was MLS rookie of the year in 2010, is also in the team.
“We want to make Honduras proud,” central defender David Velasquez Colon said, “and we can do it because we have a great group to achieve that objective.”
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