Honduras are brimming with confidence as they head into the FIFA U-17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates, and with very good reason. Los Catrachos pulled off a major shock in the CONCACAF qualifiers when they eliminated USA, the only side to have contested every single world finals in the age category up to this point.
That significant scalp has given the Central Americans a huge morale boost ahead of a tournament in which they are hoping to erase memories of their two previous appearances in the U-17 World Cup, from which they failed to collect a single point.
Honduras kick off their UAE 2013 campaign with what promises to be a stiff test against the tournament hosts in Abu Dhabi on Thursday, though as far as their coach Jose Valladares is concerned, the task will only motivate his players. “Everything’s against us, but we’re here to make history,” he said, speaking to FIFA.com. “It’s interesting for us to be able to play the host nation on the opening day of the competition. Starting off against UAE is something that has really stood out for us and it’s been a huge motivator.
"We know how hard it is to play the hosts with the crowd, the climate and everything else in their favour, but we’ve worked hard to prepare for this game to try and get the result that will make us happy and allow us to develop through the tournament.”
The Hondurans are well aware they face a tall order, especially with their pointless campaigns at Korea 2007 and Nigeria 2009 fresh in the memory. As Valladares explained, however, Los Catrachos have learned from those harsh experiences: “We can achieve a lot more than what we did then. We look on what the teams before us did as a statistic that can help us to learn. We have the chance to grow and make history in this competition.”
Hope springs eternal
That ground-breaking defeat of the Stars and Stripes in the qualifiers has had the Hondurans dreaming of bigger things, as their coach revealed: “The United States had never missed a world finals in the category, and we’d never managed to win a point at this level, having also lost every time we played the Americans. But that day, despite everyone tipping us to lose, the team stood strong and came through the test.”
As Valladares also explained, the change in the mindset of his players has been crucial to the change in their fortunes. “We’ve been focusing our efforts on getting them to approach each game responsibly and in a professional manner, without fear of losing or of winning, but with the sole idea of going out there to play.
"My objectives have always been for us to reach as high as we can," he continued. "Having watched all the players we’ve got and with the spirit I’ve instilled in them, I feel we can do something special. We respect but we don’t fear other teams and we have a very clear picture of the goals we’ve mapped out for ourselves.”
Honduras’ collective strengths and the objective of toppling group favourites Brazil are uppermost in their minds on the eve of the tournament. “We’ve got a very diligent team,” said the coach by way of conclusion. “We’ve got a balance between attack and defence, and we have some very dangerous players, which means we can hurt any team that decides to sit back. We know all about Brazil, but we hope to be in very good shape going into that third match and with our ticket to the next round already secure. That will free us up to go for first place.”