Big guns fire again in Central America

There is no greater joy for a football fan than seeing their team win a trophy after a long barren run, especially if the club in question is a big name that has fallen from grace.

Just ask the legions of supporters of El Salvador’s Alianza and Motagua of Honduras, two of Central America’s most prestigious footballing institutions, who finally got their hands on some league silverware after a long time out of the limelight. fills in the details on two overdue triumphs.

Alianza reborn
The bigger of the two parties took place in San Salvador, where Alianza fans spilled out on to the streets to celebrate their first championship triumph in the keenly disputed Salvadoran league in seven years. Redemption came for Los Elefantes, the capital city’s traditional heavyweights, after they prevailed 2-1 in the play-off final against FAS, another of the country’s leading lights.

Victory was especially sweet for their long-suffering fans, who decided four years ago to boycott the Estadio Cuscatlan in protest at the team’s poor results and their failure to win a trophy since 2004.

Motagua is my life. My wife gets jealous sometimes and says I love the club more than I do her.
Motagua boss Maradiaga

With the stands empty and the team in crisis, there seemed to be no hope for a once-proud club, who went through 2007 and 2008 without drafting in a single new player to the squad. The turning point came a year later when the club faced second division outfit AFI-El Roble in a promotion/relegation play-off. On seeing their club poised for the drop, Aliancista fans put their grudges aside and turned up in their thousands to cheer the team on. Their support was rewarded with a 3-1 victory that safeguarded Alianza’s top-flight status.

Two years later, inspired by the goals of star asset Rodolfo Zelaya, Alianza fought their way to the final of the 2010 Apertura only to lose to La Firpo. The slumbering giants were back in business, however, and six months on from that defeat, Zelaya’s brace against FAS has put them back where they belong.

The match-winner was understandably elated when he shared his thoughts after the final whistle: “Some people didn’t believe in us. The team’s been through a lot but we’ve kept on going, and words can’t describe how it feels to make these wonderful people so happy again after seven long years.”

Primi power drives Motagua
A few miles to the south in Honduras, another spell in the wilderness was coming to an end. After a five-year wait, Motagua finally lifted the league trophy again after beating arch-rivals Olimpia 3-1 at the Estadio Tiburcio Carias to complete a 5-3 aggregate win.

The chief architect of the return of Las Águilas Azules to the pinnacle is legendary coach Ramón “Primitivo” Maradiaga. It was Primi, as he is affectionately known, who was at the Motagua helm in 2007, when the club enjoyed the most glittering year in its history. After taking the 2006/07 Apertura title, El Ciclón lived up to their nickname and swept all before them in the UNCAF Cup, their first international trophy.

Yet when Maradiaga left to take charge of the Guatemala national team, Motagua went into decline, failing even to reach a league final in his absence. Their lack of success prompted the fans to call for Primi’s return. And finally, three years after his departure, the board relented and called on Maradiaga’s services once more.

There have been ups and downs since then. Following defeat to Victoria in February, Águilas fans turned their back on Primi and called for him to go. He stuck to the task, however, and has been rewarded for his perseverance with a long-awaited league crown and a huge celebration in Tegucigalpa.

After seeing his side dispose of Olimpia, Maradiaga spoke about his special relationship with the club: “Motagua is my life. My wife gets jealous sometimes and says I love the club more than I do her. At times this season some of the fans have been sick of the sight of me, but it’s all been worth it in the end.”

It has certainly been a momentous few days for Motagua and Alianza, and the champagne they have been toasting their successes with will rarely have tasted better.