Defeat to Germany in their final Group A game at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Nigeria 2009 brought a premature end to Honduras’ campaign. Although aware of their limitations, they had nonetheless hoped to win their first point in the tournament.
But being drawn in a group alongside three favourites proved to be one obstacle too far for the Catrachos. A 1-0 opening defeat to Argentina in teeming rain, another narrow one-goal loss to hosts Nigeria, and finally, a 3-1 reverse to Germany was the story of their tournament, and confirmed the fears of coach Eugenio Umanzor. "Even before we came here, we knew that the first round looked like it would be mission impossible," he admitted after their game against the Golden Eaglets. "Our dream was to qualify from the group stages, but our main ambition was to hold our own against such illustrious opponents."
Maybe the dream will come true at Mexico 2011, but Honduras can at least console themselves in the knowledge that they made life hard for three of the tournament’s most fancied teams. They held onto their dream of a first-ever point at a FIFA U-17 World Cup for a long time in their opening match against the Albicelestes, but hampered by a downpour and a sodden pitch, they finally succumbed to a goal from Sergio Araujo. "We're disappointed with the result, but we held our own throughout the game," said Catrachos captain Antony Lozano the following day. "We caused them a lot of problems because we were well-organised and put a huge amount of work into improving our passing game and fluidity. As regards technique, that comes naturally to us."
Proof of the talent in Honduran football can also be seen in the U-20 side, who took part in their category’s World Cup in Egypt last month, while their senior side sent the nation into raptures after they qualified for South Africa 2010. Umanzor is naturally delighted with this success, and sums up the performance of his own side: "Even if we go home empty-handed, I still wouldn’t consider it a failure," was his mantra throughout the tournament. "This is the first time in our history that Honduran sides have qualified for three World Cups in the same year. It is proof that our training methods are beginning to show their worth."
Training trumps tournaments
Umanzor had made it clear from the outset that the tournament could still be a success for Honduras even without qualification for the second round. "In youth level football, even in the case of U-17 World Cup winning teams, if you look at where the players are a few years later, you’ll see that only two or three have made it to the highest level," he stated at a press conference after his team’s defeat to hosts Nigeria. "My aim is to make sure that this current crop of highly-talented and hard-working players make it onto the senior team one day. I've always said to my players that if we exit the tournament with no points, but in a few years' time this generation goes on to raise the level of Honduran football, then I'll have done my job."
Defensive rock Jose Tobias, elusive midfielder Oscar Padilla and forwards Lozano and Hector Matute are just some examples of what the future holds for the football-crazy country. "We know that the people back home are following our results, are cheering for us and supporting us," Umanzor told FIFA.com. "We've got to do all we can to make them happy." Points-wise, they may not be particularly happy, but they will undoubtedly be immensely proud of what good ambassadors these young players have been for their country.