Honduran Elections 2017 – The Frustration – Part Two

Dear readers,

Having had an election earlier in the year in the UK, we Brits are accustomed to manifestos, so we can read the intentions of the candidates and know what we are voting for. It also holds parties accountable. It’s often not worth the paper it’s written on. Parties change their minds or things change, but it’s there. We get a copy. We can debate it. Ask questions. Scrutinize it. Is it a first world luxury? Yes. Probably.

Here, I’ve seen nothing of the sort. Lots of promises, but not explaining how it’s going to be achieved. No budgets, no transparency, lack of information, no clear idea what you’re voting for. Not that you would trust a politician anyway, especially looking at the track record, not just here but all over the world. This plays into the political elite’s hands obviously. The people are left with a popular vote. For the poorest, there have been reports of parties buying votes, or paying people to attend rallies. It’s disappointing.

Again the poorest lose out. As stated in the previous post, the anti Juan Orlando stance has been immense. On Twitter there is the #fueraJOHchallenge. I’m unsure what this entails, but there has been a ranchero song which is being echoed around the country; very catchy, wishing Juan Orlando to resign and leave. Click here. Many people simply want him out, which is fair (I am one of those people), but have been left to guess what policies the opposition has in store. More so, I don’t think they care. Juan Orlando has outstayed his welcome, both from Alianza and Liberal supporters, and I have come to learn, quite a few Nacionalistas.

Like in many countries, there are loyal supporters to the political parties. This generation has had to contend with the emergence of new parties, born from the 2009 crisis or corruption, which has brought many new swing voters, especially from the left. A friend who wishes to remain anonymous also told me the Nacional party has also changed, especially from the days of the ex-president Ricardo Maduro.

According to my friend who worked in the party, Juan Orlando has ruled the Nacional party with an iron fist, a lot like the country, bringing a lack of democracy, leaving many in the party disillusioned. While my friend doesn’t want to see a leadership with Alianza, he feels Juan Orlando has brought a lot of problems on himself and the party, and should have stood aside.

Not all Nacionalistas feel that way. I understand that many are happy with him and believe that the constitution is wrong. That’s another issue altogether. I was told that the ‘one term’ bill was put in place by the US to overcome this very issue: stopping dictatorships from forming. Presidents from both sides have now tried to overturn it, both ending in disaster and political crisis.

Delay in results leads to melt down

Both parties were claiming victory on Sunday night, although Nasralla took a five point lead. Strategists were saying the pattern should continue and Nasralla would win. Only 40% or so of the votes had been counted. This sent Alianza supporters to celebrate in the streets.

Meanwhile, Nacionalistas we’re also celebrating in the streets. The Nacionalista politicians looked worried though, but JOH kept claiming the rural vote had to be counted and this would win him the election. Tensions grew as the wait continued. Intimidation between supporters became intense, as you would expect. Then results stopped coming through. A stink. TSE claimed computer problems. Inaccuracies and rigging accusations were getting louder. The suspicions got even more intense when only Nacionalista votes went up, without announcements or confirmation about where the votes were coming from. The Blue side were cheering (one Nacionalista informed me on Twitter that she would prefer a victory with fraud than have a communist regime: leaving me somewhat gobsmacked) while the Red went to the streets. Little by little, the result turned in JOH’s favour. The amount of pie charts had sent the nation dizzy. By Thursday, mayhem had commenced.

The violent clashes in the past week has left 10 people dead, countless injured and people detained. Nacionalistas are blaming Libre for vandalism. In some cases it’s justified, in other cases not, especially the looting. I had to walk through some of the riots on Thursday evening when coming home from work, with the tramline on fire, road blocks with burnt tyres, toxic smoke, filling the air…a war zone. I never felt under threat, but the thought of the police storming through did. People wanted to help me through and get out the way, which I appreciated.

The violence was inexcusable, in clashes and the army fire. Images and videos were flowing on to social media and communication networks, real and fake news coming in at a rapid rate, while no one knew what was happening, especially with the voting.

Roads and neighborhoods were being closed off and flaring up. We trying to avoid clashes and traffic. We had an idea. People were being sent home from work, schools closed and then the looting started. Fighting in the streets. Rumour was that JOH had left the country. A curfew was coming. We just didn’t know when.

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Honduran Elections 2017 – The Build Up – Part One

Dear readers,

I write this on the second day of the military curfew, exactly a week after Hondurans went to the polls for the national elections. No doubt you’ve heard or seen what is going on. I’ve not written about the troubles so far because I didn’t know how to express the confusion and tension, nor keep up with the rapid escalation into chaos in the last few days. One has to be careful of their views, especially commenting as a foreigner on a heated election in a country known for political instability.

Just over a week ago, I was told by a friend who works for a well-known development bank to be extra careful, a couple of days before voting day. She was worried. On the same day, an opinion column was published in New York Times that had caught people’s attention, highlighting the current President Juan Orlando Hernández’s dubious record as president; how he got to power, and his intention to retain it. She recommended I stocked up on supplies, had plenty of cash, and I kept a low profile.

Very valuable advice, duely followed.

The back story to these elections is quite something. Picture a telenovela or Netflix series, yet it meddling with real people’s lives. A type of Gabriel García Marquez magic realism exists in Honduras, yet it is even more absurd. It was always going to be heated with Juán Orlando Hernández running for reelection. The act in itself was against the consitution, and a case of deja vú after the former president Manuel Zelaya was ousted from power eight years for trying the exact same thing. Juan Orlando played his part in the coup, funnily enough.

His four years in power have been eventful. He got the economy moving, creating millions of jobs, and also helped bring down some of the drug empires (which his own brother Tony Hernández now seems embroiled in) and investing in the prison system, which was long overdue.

However, there are also controversy stacked against him. Most notable is his role in the mess with IHSS (Honduran Social Security), where he used funds from the public entity for his election campaign back in 2013. During the scandal, a congress woman named Lena Gutierrez working under Juan Orlando, was arrested along with her father and two brothers for allegedly embezzling the state by selling it poor quality medicine at inflated prices. Consequently, many died. The IHSS had already faced mass spending cuts, unable to afford basic medication to treat patients; the majority being the poor working class. This in itself brought tens of thousands to the streets in protest, carrying torches, and demanding Juan Orlando’s resignation. He never did, and the damage was unrepairable for millions.

There has also been an authortarian approach, suppressing protests and human rights groups voices, often with extreme violence through a military whom he is chief-in-commander. He also thwarted investigations into the Berta Caceres murder. He has bought people, moved congressman like chess pieces to help push forward his own agenda. Running for reelection has topped things off, especially due to his links with the entity processing the elections – Tribunal Supremo Electoral (TSE). He has had the media on his side, much of the business sector and, over the years, support from the US government, whose opposition to leftist politics in Latin America is very well documented.

Certainly an imbalance of power. Was it enough to win people over?

I knew there was tension in the air. During the World Cup playoff game against Australia in San Pedro Sula, two thirds of the stadium began chanting Fuera JOH, meaning “Get Out JOH” (initials of Juan Orlando Hernández). It was intense to say the least. While the Honduras team were not at their best, football became second place. Fans and journalists around me joked that even Juan Orlando’s wife might be joining in.

Despite all this, Juan Orlando has been expected to win. I had guessed it in the primary elections back in March. But I, and most definitely Juan Orlando, underestimated the anger, especially with the youth vote. Remember, Honduras is a young nation. They had taken to PAC (the anti corruption party), which was formed before the 2013 elections by the sports journalist Salvador Nasralla.

The more leftist contingent follow Libre, formed as a splinter group from the Liberal party, the equivalent of the Labour Party in the UK. It separated in 2009 after an internal disputes over Mel Zelaya’s removal from power. Members of his own party had a hand in it. Mel Zelaya is still recognised as the face of Libre, and the Nacional party often call into question his links with Nicolas Maduro (and Chavez before he died) in Venezuela, claiming he wants to create a communist state in Honduras. Various Nacionalistas have sent me sources to prove it. But in an age where propaganda flows freely from both sides (Brexit, the UK and US elections being other examples), no one knows quite what to believe. Nonetheless, you can see why the US have thrown its weight behind Juan Orlando, despite his own dubious human rights record.

PAC and Libre joined forces to form Alianza party, with Nasralla fronting the party. He is a populist and flamboyant, with many calling into question his sexuality, which is a big deal for many. However, he has hit a nerve by speaking candidly about corruption and the powers that be. He certainly speaks to the people, and he has a sense of humour to go with it. The one question he has struggled to answer convincingly, though, is how he would govern a country with Mel Zelaya. What would happen when important decisions had to be made? In a recent CNN interview, Nasralla was asked about the view that he was a puppet on a string for Mel Zelaya. He laughed it off. Not very convincingly to many viewers though.

Despite this, by joining forces has been the only way the parties can complete with Juan Orlando.

There is also Luis Zelaya, leader of the Liberal party, which is still running but with a lot less weight. He is more centralist, conventional and less extreme than his competitors. He’s probably the most rational too. But due to lack of funding in his campaign and trust in some of the Liberal congressmen, who have been labelled sell outs to the Nacional agenda, he was always going to finish third.


Barra Brava Catracha – The Copan branch

Dear readers,

¡Animos! Not the greatest performance against Australia last night in San Pedro Sula, finishing 0-0 and the away side playing the better of the two, but it’s definitely not over. An away goal for Honduras could change everything. I was at the game with Fox Sports Australia, the crowd turned up, but the team didn’t play their best. Some questions for Jorge Pinto, that I’ll expand on with Fox Sports Australia. Here are a few photos I took anyway.

Now I want to include an interview I had with a key member of the Barra Brava Catracha (BBC) supporters club in Copan, in the west of the country, not far from the Mayan ruins. Funnily enough I write the piece heading back to Tegucigalpa using a bus company that the interviewee works for, Hedman Alas. He goes by the name of Ruddy, and he hails from the rural town of San Marcos in Ocotepeque, close to the border borders with El Salvador and Guatemala.

“It’s difficult to know how many members [Barra Brava Catracha] there are in Honduras exactly. The number keeps growing everyday, more and more people joining, not just in Honduras but in other places. It’s a growing family,” says Ruddy. “We want to make it the official barra for the Honduran national team. It already feels like the official supporters group anyway. We are people who love the national team unconditionally. It’s very rare that we don’t attend a game.

“I went to see 12 of the qualifying games. The furthest I’ve traveled to watch the national team is Panama, and the first game I saw was an 8-0 victory over Jamaica in Tegucigalpa.”

The group is made up of people of all backgrounds, with some ex-players, semi professionals and amateurs joining. Ruddy has also had the opportunity to meet the majority of the squad.

However, long before the game last night, Ruddy held Australia with a high esteem. He not only foresaw the result last night, stating that it wouldn’t be won at home in San Pedro Sula like many had hoped, but Honduras would get a result in Sydney. “It’s a disciplined team with a European approach. They have reknown international players and we can’t underestimate them. I think we’ll get the result in Australia [rather than in Honduras].”

He also took a balanced view of how his country was being portrayed by some sections of the Australian press, deciding not to be too riled by the narrative and adopting a positive approach instead.

“If I have seen and heard many negative articles about our country people and culture but I am not bothered. Freedom of expression is global and I can not deny that there are negative things, but there are positive things too, with the best people, culture and team,” he says. “People from overseas fall in love with Honduras all the time with all the beautiful and positive we have, so authentic and original. Its incomparable, unequaled; a wonderful country. They can call us masoquists but what we are is inconditional. They call us delusioned but what we really are is realistic. You can call us crazy but what we are is Catrachos with heart and soul.”

The man from Copan also felt the negative press would play into Honduras’s hands.

“It gives both players and fans gives more momentum, to show the world the opposite to what they are told about our wonderful country.”


Barra Brava Catracha – Part 2 – Alberto Pérez

Dear readers,

Another member of the Barra Brava Catracha supporter’s group I have met is Higinio Alberto Pérez Aguirre – also known as Roberto “El Pintor” – who demonstrates his love for the Honduran  team, as you’ve guessed it, through painting the players and coaching staff. 

“I am a Honduran who wants to excel, and hand in hand do what I like doing most, by mixing art with my passion of football. I’ve painted 35 footballers so far. I started with Bryan Beckeles [Honduran right back], one of my favourite players. Then I painted Alberth Elis, another of my favourites. I also paint players from Rayados, from FC Monterrey, and some from the Necaxa, in Mexico,” says Alberto.

Nuevo Leon, Mexico, is currently home for Alberto Pérez. He moved there 15 months ago, although he originally hails from Roatán in Honduras’s paradise Bay Islands, as well as taught Plastic Arts at Honduras’s Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes (National School of Fine Arts).

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“I have sold all my paintings so far, which pleases me, as it means my work is of value to people,” he adds. “It takes approximately two days to paint one.”

People can contact Alberto on Facebook if they wish to buy one. He has painted the boss, El Profe Jorge Pinto, Honduran strikers Romell Quioto and Antony Lozano and midfielder Mario Martinez, amongst many others.

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Jorge Luis Pinto

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Romell Quioto

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Bryan Beckeles – the first of many paintings, and one of Alberto’s favourite players

In terms of the pending games against Australia, Alberto remains nervous yet confident.  “I’m very nervous and I’m waiting very anxiously for the game to begin – and beat Australia!” he says, “3-0 to Honduras. I’m sure of it!”

He says Honduras’s strength is their hunger to succeed, that despite some poor results during qualifying, they know they can bring a lot joy to the Honduran people if they win this match.

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Maynor Figueroa

However, he thinks his team’s weakness is its lack of concentration. Alberto concludes with a kind message to Australians, and encourages Socceroos to ignore a lot of the negative press about his country.

“Australia is a country of the first world and I know that they are good people. I would like to tell them not to be afraid to come to Honduras. Please Do not believe all the bad things that are said about our country.”

 


La Barra Brava Catracha – Part One – El Catracho

Dear readers,

One group that has particularly helped me with the articles that I have been writing for Fox Sports Australia, as well as helping clear my name after a spot of bother with a misinterpretation of an article (a story I’ll tell another day), is the Barra Brava Catracha; for both I feel eternally grateful, and certainly make me feel part of the supporters group. I have mentioned them in my articles, both on my blog and Fox Sports Australia, but I yet so much to tell you about them.

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For those of you who don’t follow the beautiful game, Honduras are due to play Australia in the playoffs to go to Russia. Having written previous articles about the Honduran team on my blog and for ESPN, Fox Sports Australia contacted me to commission some work. I have also loved watching the dramatics of the Honduran team, as you might have noticed, and as the country hots up for the games (and a presidential election), Honduran patriotism is coming to the boil.

 

Honduran patriotism, to put it mildly, is intense. But it is family-like, friendly, less about xenophobia and more about curiosity, and it’s something I’ve come to admire. We often speak of the Dunkirk spirit in the UK, about being brave and carrying on regardless. Well this is how Hondurans feel everyday, whether it be having the international media printing imbalanced views about the country, or the politicians making a mockery of the hard working people who keep the country’s motor running.

 

BARRA BRAVA CATRACHA

I got in contact with the group to give my articles some feeling, to let Australian readers understand what football means to Hondurans. And like I mentioned above, they have been very helpful. Fox in the end decided not to publish all the views of the supporters that I have received. However, I feel they are still worth more than their salt and deserved to be read – especially to make the Australians know what they’re letting themselves in for.

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They go by the acronym BBC, which of course during most my lifetime as a Briton I’ve associated with the British Broadcasting Corporation, but it now has a whole new ring to it. Before I go on, I must explain that the group isn’t at all connected to the club supporters groups, such as Las Ultras of Olimpia or Los Revos from Motagua, known as las barras. No. Far from it. They consist of family folk, ex footballers, from many walks of life.

“No somos mudos” – meaning “We’re not mute.” says Alex Panta Orellana, one of the leaders to group, from the Familia Orellana, who have done a fantastic job of promoting my articles and helping to clear my name (Le debo varias Salva Vidas!! En el estadio tal vez). He’s not wrong. They sing, chant and bellow out their every minute during every game. I’ve had various conversations with members of BBC, which account for over 1,000 men, women or children, living far and wide both in Honduras and around the world, one of which is a painter living in Mexico, to a segment in Copan, both of who will feature in coming posts.

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One of the founders and administrator of the group is Aldo Santos, who often goes by the name El Catracho, resides in Brooklyn, New York, working as a chef at Chef Catracho. He’s had quite a life. He says, “I was born in La Lima, Honduras, the same town as Carlos Pavon [famous Honduran striker in 90s/00s] in the northern Honduras. When I was 15, I was selected by Mario Griffin, the under 15 soccer coach at the time. I went with a friend from my hometown, and trained at the Estadio Nacional in Tegucigalpa for three weeks, then three weeks back in Lima. My guardian parents didn’t want me to travel to the capital, because my mom was organizing to take me to New York at that time, around 1986. It was hard to let go of my dream and start again in a new place. Full of ups and downs.

“My senior year in High School was the best time of my life. I was in the school soccer team and had teammates from England, Poland, Yugoslavia, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Colombia and North America. We made it to the New York final, the only time for the Staten Island high school to do so still to this day. I was the All Star Player of the year and won various other awards to help pay my first year in college, dreaming of being a soccer coach. But life got very difficult and I had to stop going to college.”

Although the dream as a player or coach didn’t work out the way he wanted, but he has brought joy to thousands of Honduran supporters, setting up events and pages throughout social media.

“The group was created during the final Concacaf qualifying round to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, which was Honduras’s first qualification for the tournament since 1982. It began in the US with Honduran expatriates, but it has grown to Honduras and other countries, for people who love La H. We now have 1,000 members,” he adds. “When I left Honduras in 1986, I left with a tear in my eye. I vowed never to turn my back on my country, which is why I set up the Barra Brava Catracha.”

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BBC founder and administrator Aldo Santos with Honduran striker Alberth Elis

Don’t estimate the size of support for Honduras. While more than 8 million Catrachos live in Honduras itself, there are an estimated 7 to 10 million living outside the country.

The larger than life character has met quite a few of the players, and knows the Honduran striker, Alberth Elis, as well as the Captain, ex Wigan Athletic striker, Maynor Figuroa. He also follows Real Madrid and Marathón, one of San Pedro Sula’s sides. Since the moment Honduras entered the play off, he has been counting the days for the whistle to blow against Australia, posting messages like the following.

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“I can’t stop thinking about La H,” he says, “Even when I close my eyes I see them.”

“We’re of course happy to be there, in the play offs. Operación Canguro! We’re confident we can make it. We have the team for it. We’re ready.”

It’s true. Hondurans are more than ready. One way to gauge the mood of the fans, is ask the average taxi driver – in any city! One taxi driver named Rudolfo García in Tegucigalpa told me that he wasn’t impressed with Australia’s track record in playoffs, nor with the qualifying round, coming second to Iran and struggling about Syria, and only Cahill and Mooy as players of note. “3-0 in San Pedro. In Sydney, we’ll have Maynor and Elis. Vamos a mundial! 

“We have a better team and conditions on our side. They have more time to prepare. Nada más – nothing more.”

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Supporters with Maynor Figueroa

 

This view was shared with the Dallas segment of BBC, who also said they were confident, predicting a 3-0 win in Honduras and a 1-1 draw in Australia.

“We have height, speed and force. They’re our strengths. Maynor Figueroa is our favourite. He shows passion and wears his shirt with pride,” they say. They also encouraged supporters to get behind the team, act as the twelfth man in Honduras

And what words do they have for the Australian team?

“Our players don’t know the meaning of fear!”

TO BE CONTINUED……

 


Honduran national team, the weather and derbies

Dear readers,

Some of you might already know, but I’ve been doing some reporting for Fox Sports Australia in the run up to World Cup playoffs between Honduras and the Soccerroos. Going by the name of my blog, there’s no guessing in who I’m following.

I’m enjoyed it and so far, pretty much so good. My first story was a big miss due to a mis intepretation of various nuances from some sections of the media. However, a third story seemed to be a massive hit, which has landed me interviews on television and radio, which I will go into in a future post. I feel quite overwhelmed by the positivity I’ve received, and I’ve learned an awful lot about patriotism and the power of words, as well as how sensitive Hondurans feel about how they are portrayed globally. I already knew about it, but this has been a great reminder and a very good learning experience. I’ve gained a lot of friends so far, such as the Barra Brava Catracha group, who I will write about more in a post coming up soon.

I wrote this post yesterday for Fox, but they decided not to run with it. I have therefore adapted it and publishing it here.

Enjoy.


HONDURAN NATIONAL TEAM

With Eddie Hernandez out the playoffs, Jorge Pinto was left sweating after his first choice goalkeeper Donis Escober and Choco Lozano were taken off during their respective teams, Olimpia and Barcelona B. was taken off with a muscular injury in Olimpia’s derby game with Motagua. However, it seems they will be fit for Honduras’s crunch games against Australia.

In the meantime, Jorge Pinto has left fans and media guessing about his select 11, adding that he has a plan for Australia.

The press and social media were surprised by the omission of Ronny Martinez and Rubilio Castillo, and the call up of some lesser known players from Honduras’s provincial teams like Juticalpa. Los Catrachos will be buoyed by the return of Carlo Costly and Mario Martinez, but how the latter fits into a team already boasting a range of talent in defensive midfield remains to be seen. The one surprise omission which has brought little news is Roger Espinoza, also known as El Chino, a utility midfield man with Sporting Kansas City in the MLS, who won the English FA Cup with Wigan Athletic in 2013. The Honduran born, US citizen has been a fans favourite over the years, scoring a few golazos along the way. Pinto obviously sees enough talent in the squad to leave him out.

DERBY GAMES

What did my home city Birmingham and my adopted city Tegucigalpa have in common this weekend? Derby games! Both cities boast fiery rivalies in the city, with Birmingjam and Aston Villa and Olimpia and Motagua respectively. Yet this weekend, both derbies ended in 0-0 draws. Yes, the bragging rights mean everything to the fans in both cities, and both clubs want to claim the throne of el papá de ciudad. That’s where the similarities end though. Both Tegucigalpa’s teams are fighting to take top spot in the league, while Birmingham are locked in a relegation dog fight in the 2nd tier in the English leagues, while Villa, which now stars ex-England man John Terry, are in a rat race to return to the Premier League.

Back to the Tegucigalpa derby, both Olimpia and Motagua represent two of the country’s most powerful clubs, in which anything is possible.

Drama surrounds this fixture, and this weekend will be no different, giving supporters some reprieve of thinking about the play off with the Soccerroos. Just last season an Olimpia supporter invaded the pitch, collected the ball, dazzled two or three Motagua defenders before putting it away, while at the same time, Olimpia team took advantage of Motagua’s confusion and also scored, all of it taking place in injury time. Surprisingly, the goal stood and game finished 2-2. Click here to see the video.

While Olimpia could be labelled the Manchester United of Honduras, playing in very similar colours and being by far the most successful club, yet Motagua have won the previous two titles and currently sit four points clear at the top of the league, while Olimpia are 3rd.

The club’s supporters were mocking each other on the sport’s radio show La Potra Hn on Friday night, who called me while on air to talk about an article I’d written, about Olimpia beating Santos of Costa Rica penalties to claim  the Torneo Liga Concacaf the night before, with Motagua supporters were raining on their counterpart’s parade, claiming the victory was only region’s 2nd tier cup, the Europa League of Central America.

WEATHER

Talking of rain, Tropical Storm Selma entered Honduran territory on the Pacific Coast on Saturday evening, bringing torrential rain to the south side of the country. Honduras has already experienced heavy rainfall throughout the country, with has brought flash floods, landslides, overflowing rivers and reservoirs, one of which left a dam on high alert. It’s brought considerable damage to some poorer neighbourhoods in and around the northern towns and cities, claiming a number of lives.

That being said, emergency services have been quick to react and civilians have been helping one another. Australian fans coming over will be kept well away from the more precarious areas and the game shouldn’t be affected; just remember to bring your waterproofs.

 

 

 


Honduras make it to the play-offs – part three

Dear readers,

So Tuesday rolled around with Honduras needing a win against Mexico, who had already qualified. One not from the region should know that Honduras and Mexico are buddies in everything all but football. The relationship reminds me a lot of England’s relationship with other home nations, in that England, like Mexico, is the smug better team and take joy in letting their rowdy inferiors know it with derogatory bites of banter, such as claiming that the said nation thinks that footballs are square or offering that nation to carry their bags to the airport to attend a tournament, etc. The noisy neighbours then reply with equally disparaging remarks. Before you know it, there is a continental sized slagging match between the two countries through the media, which makes the games even more testy. It’s one of those moments where xenophobic behaviour and insults become rational and seem the most appropriate course for action. Here is an example of a meme by a cheeky Mexican before the game, which is pretty mild in comparison.

Even the Honduran media weren’t too hopeful. The sports newspaper El Diez ran the headline “Ganar o Socar”, which roughly translates as “win it or crap it”, which is what the nation was pretty much doing; a mixture of prayers, chest thumping, wishful thinking and prepare for the worst.

We all suffer for our national teams. In England, we know all about that. For many poor Hondurans, the team is as important as religion and their family, so when it seems half-arsed or it doesn’t show up, it feels a profound disappointment. Like in most countries, the majority of the players derive from working class or poor backgrounds. They know what it means to the people; there’s no excuses for being lazy. There should be a huge responsibility to wearing your national shirt in this country, yet it only comes, like stated in the previous posts, when it is absolutely necessary. When they’re not making an effort, the frustration ripples through the supporters, resulting not in boos exactly, but mocking and sarcastic remarks.

For me, the black players have played an important role in the team. Just look like Maynor Figueroa. To round off the paragraph, the Honduran players have great potential, but it’s rarely realized, mostly, due to their attitude.

So with all these thoughts, the game rolled around and Hondurans had either the beer or toilet paper at the ready.

I’d heard before the game that Mexico’s star man, the West Ham striker Chicharito, was out the game, which was a good omen as he has a habit of scoring against the Catrachos; a player Hondurans love to hate and would rather see him on a piñata than in the green Mexican shirt. He was slightly injured, from what I hear, and with Mexico already through, a potentially bruising encounter with Honduras didn’t seem worth risking. I was hoping Mexico might play a second string side. But no, Dos Santos, Vela, Jiménez and Peralta were all there.

There were also changes in the Honduran line up from the game against Costa Rica, with the defenders Henry Figueroa and Ever Alvarado coming in my Johnny Palacios and Emilio Izaguirre, and the midfielder Jorge Claros replacing Bryan Acosta.

I missed the first half due to work and traffic. But the humbling realism seemed to be coming to head when I heard over the radio that Peralta scored for Mexico; the Honduran commentator bellowing a kind of phlegmatic “gollll” across the airwaves. It didn’t sound too hopeful so I tuned out and returned to find that the score was now 2-1, courtesy of an equiliser from Elis, only for the ex-Arsenal man Vela to put Mexico up again just five minutes later. It seemed I was missing an exciting game.

After the restart, Mexico were continuing their waves of attacks with short, neat passes, but then being rebounded back into midfield where Elis, López and Quioto were picking up the ball to launch the odd counter attack. The thing was, Honduras looked more like scoring, despite the lack of possession. Then it came, around the 55th minute; when Elis nudged a defender off the ball, centered it for Hernández who smashed it against the crossbar, which rebounded then bounced off the goalkeeper Ochao’s noggin and fell into the net.

Cue celebrations.

Ochoa, who has a Sideshow Bob haircut and according to the internet is often referred to as the Great Wall of Mexico, was knocked out cold for a few minutes.

The game most certainly was back on. We were also hearing that the stars were aligning and prayers were being answered in other games, with USA losing to Trinidad and Tobago and Panama drawing with Costa Rica. Meanwhile, Honduras’s attacks were becoming more frequent and convincing, breathing fire down the Mexicans’ necks; they seemed to be “socando“. The pressure paid off on the hour mark, when Quioto received the ball with his back to goal just outside the left-hand side of the box. Surrounded by two or three green shirts, he took two or three touches to control the ball, fending off a couple of tugs which looked with considerable ease, swivelled, and slammed it into the bottom left hand corner of the net.

Yes, thank you.

3-2.

Pick that out the net, wey!

Forget the screams and cheering at the Estadio Olimpico, my wife was creating a pulsing atmosphere all by herself sitting on the back-rest of the sofa, throwing food or water or whatever she had in her hand in the air. Unfortunately, this energy surge confused our eight month old dog, who excitedly (and with love) bit Pamela on the upper part of her leg. I didn’t know if she was in tears of joy or pain, although his punishment was to sit the rest of the game outside.

Once everyone had calmed, we began to realise that if the scores remained the same in the other games, Honduras would leapfrog Panama and USA in the table, taking up the final qualifying position to go automatically to the world cup.

Cue euphoria.

That being said, most Hondurans knew in their heart of heart that after an extremely mediocre campaign, it wasn’t one bit deserved. But did they care? As the Spanish saying goes, les vale verga. If you don’t know what that means, Google it. In polite English, it means they didn’t care one bit. Football’s cruel and unfair. Such is life. Ni bloody modo.

Back to the game, Mexico were coming back into the game, with Escober pulling off some heroic saves, but Honduras were also having chances of their own and nearly scored a fourth had Quioto not inexplicably fallen asleep when the ball rolled to his feet just yards from the goal-mouth.

The Mexicans were getting fed up of the Hondurans time-wasting too. Claros took an age coming off the pitch when he was substituted, which I thought was a bit stupid. You knew the referee was going to add this on at the end of the game. You would have thought the Catrachos had learned that lesson from the previous game against Costa Rica. The animated Honduran coach Jorge Pinto was also kicking off with members of the Mexican coaching staff. Great TV. Pinto looks quite like a silver feathered camp actor in his light blue suits, waving hands and perfectly etched eyebrows. He’s like a one-man tele-novela.

Minutes from the end, news reached us that the Panama had scored against Costa Rica, which meant they would take final spot, while Honduras would go into a play-off with Australia. But time was ticking by slowly; it always does in such situations. Five minutes of injury time were given, but now fans were helping with the time-wasting with pitch invasions. Two rotund Honduran men escaped the security staff and ran on to the pitch, pointing at their watched, in reference to the last game, where the referee awarded 6 mysterious minutes. I don’t know if the security personnel were lazy or unfit, but to be out-run by two evidently overweight men, it’s to their own embarrassment.

Then the whistle went.

Breathe easily.

Relief.

It was something of a dampner that automatic qualification had been snatched from them, especially learning now that Panama’s winning goal hadn’t crossed the line. USA are reportedly demanding a rematch, as the goal affectively knocks them out the world cup. No offence to US supporters, but it is something of a wonderful irony that Donald Trump’s men won’t be going Russia. Going back to the rematch, they might well get it. USA is a great source of dosh in terms of commercial deals and TV rights for FIFA; far more than Honduras and Panama put together. FIFA and the corporate world would of course prefer USA. It was without doubt a dodgy goal and a cock up from the ref, but it would also be very unjust on Panama, with this being their first ever appearence in at a world cup. It was a huge shock USA being knocked out though. Qualification from the CONCACAF qualifying round should be routine for a country that pours millions of dollars into the infrastructure and foundations of the sport. They fired Klinsmann half way through the campaign and brought in Arena, who is a great coach. But the team looked very off colour and at odds with itself, being thrashed 4-0 by Costa Rica along the way.

The other shock was Chile in South America, especially off the back of two impressive wins in the Copa America.

In the meantime, Honduras will now go into a play off match with Australia, both soccer crazy nations with love for beer and foul language. Who am I to judge? I’m only a pom/gringo.

Watch this space…