The FIFA U-20 World Cup Egypt 2009 is just around the corner and an ambitious Honduras side are busy preparing for their tournament bow against Hungary on 27 September. Emilio Umanzor's young hopefuls have only one objective in mind as they continue their fine-tuning: to advance beyond the group stage for the first time in the country's history.
The Central Americans are leaving nothing to chance, having decamped to Europe to play a number of friendlies before crossing the Mediterranean for the land of the Pharaohs. And the early signs are encouraging, with the Hondurans kicking off their tournament preparations with a fine draw against mighty Nigeria in Spain.
"We are very happy and excited and full of confidence," said midfielder Mario Martinez before boarding the plane that would take the squad to the old continent. "We really want to make history in this U-20 World Cup." It is a view shared by all of Martinez's team-mates, who see their Egyptian adventure as an opportunity to make up for the disappointments of the past.
Those failures include missing out on qualification for Canada 2007 and a disastrous showing at Netherlands 2005, where they suffered three heavy defeats in the group phase, conceding 15 goals and scoring none.
The new generation of young Albiazules are focusing on the future, however, and with coach Umanzor having drawn up a detailed training schedule, they are hoping to hit the ground running when the tournament gets under way. "We're going to Spain to sharpen up a few things before we head to Egypt," he explained. "There are a lot of areas where we need to improve and we hope to do that in the next few days."
With that in mind, the tactician has put together a programme of high-quality friendlies, including two games against Spain and meetings with Uzbekistan, Uruguay and the Nigerians, all of them stiff tests that should provide Umanzor with plenty of pointers ahead of their Egyptian adventure.
A promising beginning
If early indications are anything to go by, the CONCACAF representatives look to be shaping up well. After earning a draw against Alicante B behind closed doors, they pitted their wits against the Super Eagles, one of the strongest teams in the world at this age level. Yet despite going into the game as clear underdogs against a side boasting several players based in Europe and who helped Nigeria win the FIFA U-17 World Cup Korea 2007, La Bicolor showed exactly what they are capable of.
Roger Rojas put them ahead just after the half-hour mark, with goalkeeper Jose Mendoza keeping out a penalty moments later. The young gloveman pulled off some fine saves throughout but could do nothing to prevent the powerful Nigerians from equalising five minutes into the second half. Even so, Umanzor and his side had every reason to be delighted with their performance.
The task now is to maintain that feelgood factor in the build-up to the tournament proper, where they take on Hungary, South Africa and United Arab Emirates in a wide-open Group F, a section that Los Catrachos have every chance of qualifying from.
One thing their fans back home can be assured of is that Umanzor's charges will be battling hard to do the country proud. "They need to believe and have confidence in us," said the coach, making a heartfelt plea to their loyal supporters. "We want to feel the warmth of their support. The job has only just begun and we don't want to come up short. We want to go all the way."