A family tragedy will inspire Honduras midfielder Wilson Palacios when he confronts Chile tomorrow in their 2010 FIFA World Cup™ Group H Nelspruit showdown.
Younger brother Edwin was kidnapped in the Central American country three years ago and although a ransom was paid, his body was discovered in a remote rural area. "Everything I do in football is for Edwin. He is watching over me," Palacios told Honduran reporters as the country prepares for only their second appearance at the four-yearly football spectacle.
In a squad containing 14 local semi-professionals, Wigan defender Maynor Figueroa and midfielder Hendry Thomas are other English Premiership representatives. Midfielders Edgar Alvarez and Julio de Leon and striker David Suazo play in Italy, although the latter is a doubtful starter for the match at the 42,000-seat Mbombela Stadium in the north-east city.
Honduras proved a tough nut to crack in Spain 28 years ago, drawing twice and losing the other group game by a single goal, and this offer hope to Colombian-born coach Reinaldo Rueda. "Chile play a different brand of football to most countries and you have to be very intelligent to match them," is the warning he drills into a team prone to defensive lapses.
Since defeating Yugoslavia to finish third as hosts of the 1962 tournament, Chile have played 13 matches in four appearances without celebrating a victory. But hopes are high that a team which finished second behind Brazil in the qualifying competition for South Africa can not only defeat Honduras, but reach the second round.
The Chilean schedule suggests they will face increasingly tougher opposition with Honduras followed by European rivals Switzerland and FIFA World Cup favourites Spain. This is a young, hungry Chilean outfit lacking household international names that has already impressed in South Africa, defeating the host nation more convincingly than a 2-0 scoreline suggests in a friendly last year.
Argentine coach Marcelo Bielsa, whose El Loco nickname hardly does him justice, favours a 3-3-1-3 system with the team swarming about the field like bees, trying to unsettle rivals. Bielsa is desperate for success after failing to take his homeland beyond the first round at the 2002 FIFA World Cup with Argentina losing to England and held by Sweden.
Famous for thorough preparations, he spends hours studying videos of his own team and opponents, looking for that one chink in the armour that could tilt the balance. While Bielsa has become a national hero in his adopted country with an offer of citizenship, he quickly passes credit to a squad captained by Spain-based goalkeeper Claudio Bravo.
"This team got to South Africa on its own. I did not take them there, rather I am going there with them," he told Chilean journalists regularly subjected to multi-hour news conferences as the coach answers every question.