Luis Santos is last out of the locker-room after Honduras’ quarter-final defeat to Sweden. The captain anchors a procession of red-eyed Catrachos, their heads tilted toward the floor. They’d come so close to booking their place in the semi-finals of the FIFA U-17 World Cup in UAE.
“It’s a hard feeling. It doesn’t feel good right now,” The Olimpia player, sniffling through recently shed tears, told FIFA.com in the brightly lit corridors of the Khalifa Bin Zayed Stadium, Swedish roars and raucous celebrations ringing in his ears from the other end of the hall. It might have been the other end of the world for the home-bound Hondurans. “We worked hard for our country and now we have to go home, and we have to do it in the right way. We have to be humble.”
Santos, who plays for domestic club giants Olimpia of Tegucigalpa, was at the heart of a Honduran defence that, despite shipping eight goals in their five games, were sturdy and decisive. A strong centre-back with a keen sense of where to be and how to put out the inevitable fires, Santos’ strong will and tough tackling personified the Catracho spirit of graft and grit. It should not be forgotten that Honduras had never before won a match at a U-17 world finals, making their run to the last eight here in UAE all the more impressive.
It’s cold comfort for Santos, though, who will need a few days to see all those positives. “Being here was a special time for us, but right now it’s hard to see. We’ve reached the quarter-final of a World Cup, so we, eventually, will have a great feeling of satisfaction. But we could have done a little more against Sweden,” he added ruefully of the last-eight game in which the Hondurans scored first only two surrender a pair of second-half goals. “Se there are some regrets too, and that’s what I feel the most right now.”
The defender’s sparse chin whiskers and cracking voice are a reminder of just how young these players are. Their celebrations are pure joy and their devastations can be raw. But Santos, along with talented mates like Rembrandt Flores and Brayan Velasquez, have done a fine service to Honduran football. They can rank themselves proudly alongside the team that reached the quarter-finals of the London Olympics and indeed the senior side who recently beat Mexico at Azteca en route to booking their place in a second straight FIFA World Cup™.
“We made people a little more aware of Honduras,” added Santos as players and officials buzz around him, the bittersweet excitement of a closing venue getting the better of the desert oasis of Al Ain. “We did our best and people outside our country will see that Honduras made it a long way and we gave our all to go as far as we could.”
Santos’ last words before walking out into the dark are generous, advice to the next generation in his country, where opportunities aren’t terribly plentiful. “If you have a dream, you need to chase it. It’s not going to chase you,” he said, forcing a small smile. “Don’t conform to what is expected; don’t let other people tell you what you can be. Go on and do your best.”