"I'm convinced that this group is going to make history and that this is just the start. That's why I was so eager to come."
Anthony Lozano did not think twice about answering the call to represent Honduras at the Men's Olympic Football Tournament Rio 2016. Even though his club could have refused to release him and he has been the subject of criticism back in his homeland on several occasions, he persuaded his employers – Tenerife – that his national team were destined for great things in Brazil.
His prediction has turned out to be spot on, as on a boiling Brasilia afternoon, they knocked out Argentina through a Lozano goal, repeating their feat from London 2012 (where Spain were their victims) by advancing to the quarter-finals and eliminating a global powerhouse along the way.
"We came here with our minds set on winning a medal," Lozano said in the interview he granted FIFA.com after Honduras progressed courtesy of a 1-1 draw in which he scored a penalty. "That's what keeps us motivated. We took a step forward today but we can't settle for coming this far. We've stuck together, we've dug deep in both games in which we've had to, and here we are, through to the next round and humbly improving."
A combination of humility and firm faith in their own ability was a cornerstone of the Hondurans' exploits in London, where they lost out 3-2 to Brazil in a quarter-final barnstormer, and so it has proved once again in Rio. Lozano is the only player to have been involved in both tournaments and sees similarities between the two squads. "We're a group with belief. That's been the key in both squads I've been a part of. They've been two groups that felt ready for big things. We've got a lot of highly talented players."
Wednesday's game against Argentina offered more compelling evidence of the team's character, particularly in the second half. Honduras kept their shape and discipline throughout and managed to bounce back from the blow of missing a penalty in first-half stoppage time. After Argentina themselves had fluffed their lines from the spot in the 55th minute, the Catrachos were able to show all their attacking exuberance, with Lozano, Alberth Elis and Romell Quioto coming to the fore.
"We go back a long way. I know their characteristics and they know mine. We know each other from Olimpia, where we played together for a long time. That's partly what's allowing us to perform so well together and be successful. Granted, it should also be noted that the team are playing to our strengths, which helps us."
A street footballer
It was at Olimpia that, eight years ago, Lozano became the youngest player ever to feature in the Honduran top flight, making his debut at 15. But that was not where he learnt his trade. Like so many other players, the street was his breeding ground.
It was here that, aged just eight, he caught the eye of his older brother, Luis Ramos, also a professional footballer, who recommended him to his first club, Marathon. After that Choco – a nickname he gained because of his chocolate-coloured skin – played for Platense Junior prior to joining Olimpia.
The teenage Lozano then had a first European adventure with Valencia and Alcoyano, an experience that he described as "fundamental, it had a positive impact on my life". He headed back to Honduras and Olimpia, where he won several trophies, before returning to Europe in 2015 and enjoying a superb season with Tenerife. Despite these diverse influences, however, his essence remains the same as when his potential was first spotted by his brother:
"I've still got a lot of that about me. The football you learn on the street gives you that something extra for those games when you've got to show that bit of guile and you need street smarts."
From villain to hero
His circuitous path has also toughened the youngster up, equipping him with the fortitude to overcome setbacks. While everyone may now be singing his praises, Lozano has been through some testing times both with the senior national team, for whom he made his bow in 2011, and at club level. After missing a penalty against Herediano in the quarter-finals of the 2015 CONCACAF Champions League quarter-finals, he was booed by his own supporters for three matches.
"I suffered. When your own fans reject you or treat you badly, obviously it hurts, but we were born for big things and we can't let the criticism drag us down. I've had several negative experiences like that, which have made me grow both as a person and as a player. And today I can say that I have the mental balance you need to handle the criticism and the praise alike."
This mental strength was on show when he stepped up to the spot to take another crucial penalty, on this occasion against Argentina at the Olympics, with just a quarter of an hour left and after Bryan Acosta had earlier missed from 12 yards. "Nerves were jangling but I was able to stay calm, safe in the knowledge that if I scored, we would make them really nervous. Luckily it was enough to take us through."
Next up for Lozano and Honduras are Korea Republic in Belo Horizonte this Saturday, 13 August. The Catrachos' ambitions are not sated yet and they will be sticking to the recipe that has got them this far: "It's been a gradual process for us in this tournament and we mustn't set limits for ourselves. We've got to keep our feet on the ground, while stamping our mark."