Alberth Elis had not yet entered his teenage years when he was ordered to get out of goal and make his way up front. As his father had already informed him that goalkeeper was a tricky position to play in, he enthusiastically seized the opportunity by creating havoc in the opposition defence and eventually scoring a hat-trick. Those goals were the first of many in the burgeoning career of the powerful and speedy forward, who has flourished at this year’s Olympic Football Tournament.
In fact, the man nicknamed La Panterita (little panther) has been one of the most eye-catching attackers at Rio 2016. The 20-year-old has impressed not only with his two well-taken goals, but also with his devastating bursts of pace that have left opposing rearguards floundering or having to take desperate measures to stop him.
“Thank God things have turned out as I was hoping,” Elis told FIFA.com in the run-up to Saturday’s bronze-medal match with Nigeria, arguably the biggest game of his life. “We fought for the chance to have a good tournament. All I wanted to do was to be able to go abroad and show the world that we have some pretty good players in Honduras.”
If Los Catrachos were to overcome the West African side in Belo Horizonte, they would write a brand new chapter in their footballing history. “I’ve dreamed about this kind of thing all my life,” continued the dynamic front man, who starred at the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013 and the FIFA U-20 World Cup New Zealand 2015.
“It would be a beautiful, historic and unforgettable moment, and that’s what we have to strive for, to give our all to make it happen. If we win this medal, I can assure you it’s going to have pride of place in my home.”
Although Elis has risen to prominence in Rio due to his remarkable pace and power, these attributes have actually been part of his make-up for quite some time. “Ever since I was really young, my speed and strength have always been my greatest assets,” he said. “At secondary school I did athletics as well, and I was always the fastest. I try to take advantage of it as much as I can to get the upper hand.”
Those attributes were never more obvious when, while still at school, the promising youngster scored 14 goals in a youth knockout tournament for undiscovered talents. After being named the competition’s best player, he earned a trial with Mexican outfit Monterrey and later joined the reserve team of Honduran side Real Espana. At 15, he moved to Tegucigalpa giants Olimpia, where he made his professional debut at the tender age of 17.
And his assets have again been in evidence at Rio 2016, particularly against Argentina and Korea Republic, but also versus Algeria and Portugal. The European side were surprised early on by the explosive No17, who opened the scoring after just 30 seconds of play, equalling the quickest-ever goal at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament. That record stood for only a few days, until Neymar found the net for Brazil after 15 seconds of a painful defeat for Honduras.
“It was difficult to lose like that. We thought we’d give a better account of ourselves. We lost our concentration and the first goal was like having a bucket of cold water poured over you,” said Elis, the 6-0 semi-final reverse at the hands of the Olympic hosts – a result that ended the Hondurans’ gold-medal dream – still fresh in his mind. Although his performance at the Maracana was his weakest of the tournament, he was still involved in his team’s two best chances.
Consequently, Honduras’ mental approach will play a key role in their upcoming bronze-medal duel, with just two days having gone by since that difficult loss. “We know it’s tough, but it’s extremely important that we're fully recovered for the match with Nigeria,” explained the San Pedro Sula native.
Indeed, if the dangerous attacking triumvirate of Elis, the pacey Romell Quioto, and the clinical Antony Lozano are to pierce the Africans’ defence and claim Honduras’ first Olympic medal and Central America’s first football medal in the process, they will need to be at their very best.