For a player in the early stages of a burgeoning career, Alberth Elis has already had the privilege of experiencing things in football that would draw the envy of his fellow peers.
A product of a Honduras national team set-up that has grown into a creditable force in CONCACAF in recent years, the 20-year-old has made the most of representing the central American nation at youth and senior international level.
It began with a trip to the Middle East and the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013, where Elis and his team-mates made an impressive run to the quarter-finals. Two years later, the striker travelled down under to the FIFA U-20 World Cup New Zealand 2015 and appeared in two group matches for Los Catrachos.
Yet, as international experiences go, this past summer in Brazil will live high on Elis’s list for some time. Surpassing what their countrymen achieved at London 2012, Honduras surprised the football world with a remarkable fourth-place finish at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Rio 2016.
It was a tournament that helped take Elis’s career to the next level. The forward not only appeared in all of Honduras’ matches at Rio 2016, he also found the back of the net twice. This included the match winner in their quarter-final upset of Korea Republic.
“I think that the game against Korea when we advanced to the semi-finals is a very special memory,” Elis told FIFA.com of that historical mid-August evening in Belo Horizonte. “In both World Cup tournaments (U-17 and U-20), I did not score, so I worked very hard in the Olympics to have that opportunity [to score] again and thank God, it happened.”
Elis’s summer exploits in Brazil also led to his move to Mexican football, as he joined Monterrey from Honduran giants Olimpia. “They were observing me in the Olympics and my good job there helped me to come here [to Monterrey],” he said of his switch to the Liga MX outfit.
Focus on Russia
Like many of his Honduran team-mates, Elis has gone from strength to strength with every challenge he has faced at the international level. Only weeks after his Olympic odyssey, the forward played a key role in ensuring Honduras’ passage to the Hexagonal stage of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™.
After being the recipient of some incisive counter-attacking play from Romell Quioto at Rio 2016, Elis returned the favour in his hometown of San Pedro Sula on 2 September. A forward run down the right flank allowed Elis to pick out Quioto at the far post, who duly converted for a crucial 2-1 victory over Canada. That was followed four days later with a hard-fought goalless draw away to Mexico that took the central Americans through to the decisive fifth and final round of qualifying.
Elis believes his previous international experiences and the faith shown in him by Honduras coach Jorge Luis Pinto have allowed him to become an essential part of his country’s quest to qualify for Russia 2018. “With the experience you gain in those tournaments, you improve so much as you get to see the competitiveness of the opposition. I think this has been very important for me,” he said. “Now with Professor Pinto [in charge], I’m having the opportunity in the national team and it’s going very well.”
For Elis and Honduras, the next challenge starts on Friday 11 November with the opening matches in the 'Hex'. In a group that consists of CONCACAF giants Mexico and USA, central American rivals Costa Rica and Panama, and Caribbean qualifiers Trinidad and Tobago, the youngster is confident Los Catrachos can claim one of the three World Cup qualifying spots on offer.
“We’ll have tough games because there are some very good national teams [in the group], but I think we have grown [as a team],” Elis said. “This will help us to arrive in our best moment and to try and win our first games that will make our qualification to the World Cup easier. All games are worth three points and I think we’ll try to win all of them - first at home, then try to achieve good results away.”
The need for success at home will be immediate for Honduras, as they embark on their 'Hex' campaign with two home matches. San Pedro Sula’s Estadio Olimpico will be the setting for crucial battles against Panama on Friday, then Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday 15 November. The importance of these two home games is not lost on Elis.
“These two games could define our Hexagonal efforts,” he said. “We’re at home with our fans and we must make them happy by trying to win six points. Everyone will give their best, and hopefully, we get the wins at home.”