Honduras have made history by qualifying for the FIFA U-17 World Cup for the very first time. Relying on a team ethic rather than a clutch of star players, the Hondurans made home advantage count in the CONCACAF qualification tournament, knocking out reigning world champions Mexico en route to a place in the finals in Korea.
Miguel Escalante's boys will not be heading to the far east looking to make up the numbers, though. With their sights firmly set on qualification for the second round, the Catrachos aim to raise the profile of Honduran football and lay strong foundations for the future of the national side.
The battle for a place at Korea 2007 saw the Central Americans drawn with the mighty Mexicans, surprise package Haiti and the ever-dangerous El Salvador. The hosts began their qualification bid against the unknown Haitians, who surprised the vociferous crowd at the Estadio Tiburcio Carias with some combative yet intelligent play to claim a well-deserved one-all draw.
That result left Honduras knowing that victory against their Salvadoran neighbours was imperative if they were stay in control of their own destiny. Fresh from a 2-2 draw with Mexico, El Salvador proved a tough nut to crack but the Catrachos showed the benefit of teamwork to grab the points thanks to a solitary goal from striker Julio de Jesus Ocampo. The hard-fought win took the home side to the top of the group and a step closer to realising their dream
But in order to clinch a historic finals berth, the Hondurans had to secure at least a draw in their final game against the world champions, a result that would deny the Mexicans the chance to defend the title they won in Peru two years ago. In a tough, uncompromising encounter that saw both sides reduced to ten men, the boys in green were unable to unpick the impenetrable home defence, which held firm for a goalless draw, to the delight of an entire nation.
Miguel Escalante is a hard-working, intensely committed coach. It is these very characteristics that have helped him succeed where others before him have failed. By adopting a conscientious, methodical approach to his work, the young tactician has led Honduras to the FIFA U-17 World Cup finals for the first time ever.
Escalante has focused his efforts on developing both his side's footballing and mental strengths, motivating his players to the extent that they felt the equals of their rivals in the qualification tournament. "We know full well that Mexico are a good side but they're no better or worse than we are," commented the ambitious coach in the run-up to the tournament. "There's a positive mood in the camp and that helps us." As it turned out, his players proved him right.
Player to watch
Honduras managed to negotiate their way through an extremely testing group thanks to their extraordinary team spirit and the willingness of their players to help each other out when the pressure was on. If one player stood out above the rest, however, then it had to be midfielder Johnny Harold Leveron, who combined not a little class with bags of commitment and character. His will to win, much commented upon in the national press, was a fundamental factor in Honduras' triumphant qualification campaign.
What they said...
"We want to put on a decent performance over in Korea. We have to prepare well. We need to go up a level because we want to reach the second round at the very least." (Honduras coach Miguel Escalante)