The pride was clearly visible in Maynor Figueroa’s eyes. Thanks to a goalless draw against Japan in Coventry on Wednesday evening, Honduras reached the knockout stages of a Men’s Olympic Football Tournament for the first time in three attempts. It is a remarkable achievement for a country of just eight million inhabitants. “We’re very happy,” the left-back told FIFA.com in interview.
Now the 29-year-old is hungry for more. “Nobody believes we can make it to the final, but I still honestly think we can do it,” he said, smiling. “Our chances are just as good as those of the other seven quarter-finalists, even if no-one believes in us.”
Despite his confidence, the Wigan Athletic defender is nonetheless well aware of the size of the obstacle blocking their route to the final. “Now we’re up against Brazil. It’s a great opportunity for us as we’ve never played against them. We’re going to try and play in exactly the same way we did against Spain, Morocco and Japan.”
The model athlete is evidently enjoying himself at London 2012. As the oldest member of the team and one of its principal driving forces, Honduras’ No3 only has one thing on his mind: to lead his country to worldwide recognition. The fact that the tournament is taking place in his second home is an even greater motivation. “I’m representing my country and Wigan at the same time here. It’s a great feeling,” said Figueroa.
Having collected five points from their three group games, including a sensational 1-0 win over one of the favourites Spain, Honduras have no reason to fear any opponent. Indeed, anyone who has witnessed the tough-tackling Central Americans’ swift and incisive attacking game will know they will start Friday’s match against Neymar and Co in Newcastle with plenty of self-confidence.
Yet Figueroa does not only have his sights set on Brazil as a forthcoming opponent, but also as a travel destination. “We’re taking things step-by-step. But if we manage to qualify for the 2014 World Cup this team could achieve great things,” he told FIFA.com. At these Olympics the foundations for the future are being laid, a fact highlighted by the presence of senior team coach Luis Suarez in the Honduras dugout.
Before then, Figueroa has another dream to fulfil, especially in light of the absence of his wife, a member of the Honduras Handball team that failed to qualify for London 2012. “She couldn’t come over due to family commitments, but she is of course supporting me from Honduras," he said. "I promise I’ll give everything to take a medal back to my family."
On the evidence so far, that does not seem like such a far-fetched idea.