Honduras braced for stern test
© AFP

Honduras have one objective at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Nigeria 2009: to better their performance at Korea 2007. Making their maiden appearance at the finals, Miguel Escalante's side struggled to cope with the demands of facing quality international opposition, losing all three of their group games and scoring only three goals in the process.

The job of improving on that showing has fallen to Escalante's successor, Emilio Umanzor, who has worked his side hard since taking over, putting them through triple training sessions in a bid to ensure they are in peak condition in Nigeria. The tactician has also had his team training with the national U-20s, who are gearing up for Egypt 2009, the idea being to speed up his youngsters' education.

The boys have put in some great work out on the pitch. I'm sure my players are going to put up a very good show.
Honduras coach Emilio Umanzor ahead of Nigeria 2009

"The boys have put in some great work out on the pitch," said the coach at the end of one of his intensive training sessions. "We're delighted with what they have shown so far. We won't be easing off, though, and I'm sure my players are going to put up a very good show."

Given the daunting task awaiting the young Hondurans in Africa, it is easy to see why Umanzor has been putting them through their paces. Their first-round opponents are none other than Argentina, Germany and the tournament hosts. "We've been drawn against three sides who are all among the favourites to win the World Cup," he lamented.

Though Umanzor is hopeful his charges can acquit themselves well, he is realistic about their chances of a claiming a scalp or two at the finals, which have not been helped by the recent political turmoil in Honduras. "I don't think we can hope to surprise teams without exposing the players to some international matches first," he said.

"That's not the FA's fault, though. Doors have been closed to us for reasons beyond our control and we need help if we're to going to organise some warm-up matches abroad."

Despite the lack of friendlies, Umanzor has at least been able to prepare for the tournament in depth, thanks to the facilities now available to the team at home. "We've been able to set up a training camp and we've had access to the necessary logistics too, both of which are very important," he revealed. 

National recognition
The young Catrachos can also count on the support of the nation. Their fine performances in the qualifying competition in Mexico even met with the approval of the country's politicians. In a ceremony held on Tuesday, the players were awarded medals by the National Congress and received the best wishes of the deputies, who urged them to do the country proud in Nigeria.

Despite the obstacles in their way, Umanzor is hopeful his boys can do just that. "I feel very optimistic and I'm convinced we can give a good account of ourselves," he concluded. "There's a great spirit in the team and that's vital if we're going to work as a unit. If we have that togetherness, we might just achieve some big things."