Maynor Figueroa has every chance of being one of the revelations of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. The 26-year-old left-back has become a key figure for English Premier League side Wigan Athletic and made a valuable contribution as Honduras reached the world finals for only the second time in their history.
As he prepares for the showpiece event, the Catracho defender spoke to FIFA.com about his country’s rollercoaster ride to South Africa and their hopes of success once there.
Sadness gives way to joy
Before they could celebrate their first FIFA World Cup finals appearance since 1982, Honduras had to endure a nerve-racking finale to the CONCACAF qualification competition, with Figueroa and his team-mates experiencing a gamut of emotions in their last two matches.
“The home game against USA was the one that put our qualification in doubt,” he explains. “We needed to win and it definitely looked on because we had won all our home matches to that point. We played badly, though, and lost (3-2). That meant things were out of our hands. To go through we had to win our final game against El Salvador and pray for the Americans to get a result against Costa Rica.”
To make matters worse for Figueroa, he was ineligible for the deciding match, played in San Salvador. “I was suspended and had to watch the game from the stands,” he explains. “Honduras players and fans kept giving out all this different information, saying that the USA had equalised or that Costa Rica had already won.”
“It was really tough because if you’re out there on the pitch all you think about is the game. But when you’re sitting on the sidelines you’re aware of everything else that’s going on. The match ended [Honduras prevailed 1-0] and the win was good enough only for the play-off place. We were in tears but then, 30 seconds later, came the news that the Americans had equalised. All of a sudden our tears went from tears of sadness to ones of joy.”
What made Honduras’ last-minute qualification all the more notable was that it helped bring the country together at a time of political turmoil. “We had even more responsibility on us because it was the only source of happiness for the Honduran people at what was a very difficult time. Luckily we made it and it helped people take their minds off what was going on.”
A shock in store?
The reward was a tough draw in the finals, with Los Catrachos being pitched into Group H alongside Spain, Chile and Switzerland, not that Figueroa is too downhearted about that. “They are very good sides and if there's a minnow in the group, then it’s Honduras,” he acknowledges. “I’d just like to point out, though, that it’s often the supposedly little teams who cause the most problems for the big ones.”
Not surprisingly, the Wigan man identifies the match against European champions Spain as the one he and his colleagues are most looking forward to. “It’s a privilege for us to take on the favourites for the World Cup, the best team in the world,” he enthuses. “Maybe there are some teams out there who would prefer to avoid them, but not us. Playing them will give us a good indication of whether we can go on an achieve bigger things.”
A source of inspiration for the Catracho class of 2010 is their forebears’ achievement at Spain 1982, when the Central American outsiders recorded a deserved 1-1 draw with the tournament hosts. Until now that appearance was Honduras’s only one in the FIFA World Cup finals, a record that was beginning to weigh heavy on Figueroa and his team-mates.
“We were getting tired of hearing the same old story over and over again for 27 years,” he explains. “It was getting to us. But in reaching the second finals in the country’s history, we haven’t changed the story so much as added a new chapter to it.”
So just how well does Figueroa think he and his fellow warriors will do in South Africa? “We have our own style, which works, and we’re not going to change now. Nobody prepares just to lose. We want to win and we’ll fight to the death to achieve it.”
However far the Hondurans go in the finals, their opponents can be assured of one thing: they will be pushovers for no one.