Honduras and Korea Republic play for place in quarters
Luis Palma decisive against New Zealand
FIFA.com talks exclusively to the Catracho ace
Anyone observing the Honduran players, jaws clenched and on the verge of tears, hurriedly passing through the post-match interview zone could see at once how angry and frustrated they were at losing their opening Group B game to Romania to an Elvin Oliva own-goal (1-0).
Against New Zealand in their second outing, they refused to succumb to a similar fate, even after Liberato Cacace put the OlyWhites ahead against the run of play on ten minutes. As half-time approached, Luis Palma took matters into his own hands, first with a sumptuous bit of control and a turn inside the box followed by a shot well saved by Michael Woud.
"It's true my control was very good," the 21-year-old striker told FIFA.com with a smile, "even if I missed with my chipped effort right afterwards. However, you often get a second chance during a game and, luckily, I was able to score on that occasion," says Palma, who headed his side level from a corner.
It was the perfect morale boost on the stroke of half-time, even if Honduras were surprised shortly after the restart with a goal from Chris Wood. Yet still, La H kept their composure, not least those who came off the bench, like Juan Obregon, author of the second equaliser, and Rigoberto Rivas, scorer of the winning goal three minutes from time.
Appointed head coach of the Olympic team this year, the Uruguayan Miguel Falero only had good things to say about his No.17. "Luis is one of our most skilled players and he does a lot of good things on the pitch. He has exactly the kind of qualities I was looking for in this team," he said after the dramatic win on Sunday.
Palma is coming off a great season back home with CDS Vida, the club that developed him and where he is now an established first-teamer with 13 goals. Considered one of the great hopes of Honduran football, he recently signed for Portuguese outfit Braga and will cross the Atlantic after the Olympics to bolster the ranks of a team set to feature in next season’s UEFA Europa League.
For now though, the gifted youngster wants to stay focused on his Japanese quest. "We’re up and running now and have one game left in this group against Korea. The Olympic Games are the only thing on my mind at the moment - I’m not thinking about anything else."
The final Group B matchday promises excitement aplenty with all four teams on three points. To be sure to progress, Honduras will have to beat the South Koreans, who arrive with the wind in the sails after a 4-0 defeat of Romania.
Although a tall order, Honduras are no strangers to Olympic challenges and Palma is nothing if not determined. Indeed, he almost lost an eye following an accident at the age of 12 and sold vegetables and chicken as part of the family business as a youngster. With his first pay cheque he bought himself a pair of football boots to help realise his father’s dream of seeing his son become a professional footballer.
"My family is my main source of motivation and pride. The reason I’m so committed is because of them," says the player who sports a blue wristband with the handwritten names of all the members of the Palma clan.
Palma and his team-mates are also shouldering the lofty expectations of an entire country, who are desperate to see their heroes repeat the exploits of Rio 2016, which ended at the semi-final stage with a sobering 6-0 defeat to Brazil, followed by another loss to Nigeria in the bronze-medal match (3-2).
Five years on, a new generation hopes to find inspiration in the exploits of the previous one, while writing their own history. The aim is to achieve this with a more technical and less abrasive brand of football, of which Palma is the perfect exemplar. "We’re aiming for a medal – bronze, silver or gold, it doesn't matter," he concludes.