For Honduras, falling at the first hurdle has become an unhappy habit. Two visits to the FIFA World Cup™ have failed to yield a single win, while the second round at the Olympics has also proved elusive, with group-stage exits in 2000 and 2008.
Johnny Leveron, Los Catrachos' captain at London 2012, was not involved in any of those campaigns, yet he has suffered the same fate, with bottom-placed group finishes at the FIFA U-17 and U-20 World Cups. It is hardly any wonder that some Honduras players have begun referring to their failure to reach the knockout stage at major tournaments as a “curse”.
Negativity, however, was nowhere to be seen when FIFA.com caught up with a player desperate to prolong his Olympic adventure. “I’m enjoying everything about being here,” said Leveron. “As soon as I wake up, I’m smiling. I’m really loving every moment. Even the simple things are fantastic when you are at an Olympic Games, and we all really want to make the most of this. We want to be here for as long as possible, to make these moments last.”
The 22-year-old, who plays his club football for Honduran outfit Motagua, also believes that an end to the first round curse is within his team’s grasp. While aware that they will start as underdogs in a section that includes Spain, Japan and opening match opponents Morocco, Leveron believes that the experience of the aforementioned FIFA youth tournaments has helped forge a togetherness that could prove crucial.
“I think we can do it,” he said. “We have been to important competitions together as U-20 and U-17 players and there is a great closeness between us. We know that we have a very difficult group but everyone believes in each other and there is a very happy atmosphere in the squad. It is a privilege for us to be here and I have trust in the team that we will rise to the occasion.”
With the world and European champions waiting in Honduras’s second group match, starting well at Hampden tomorrow evening is likely to be a necessity. And while, on paper, Morocco might seem less imposing opponents than the Spanish and Japanese, Leveron has seen enough to make him wary of the threat they pose.
He said: “We have watched videos of Morocco and we know that they have some very fast and strong players. If we don’t control the game and succeed in imposing ourselves on them, we are going to find ourselves in a lot of trouble. It is a very dangerous match for us.
“We are going to give everything though because we all know that the first result for us is so important. So many times in the past, we have suffered because we haven’t started well. If we can get a good result against Morocco, it will make things easier for us in the matches to come. It will be tough but we have faith that this could be a special tournament for us.”