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 deemed 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. Some supporters blame the black contingent of the team (it makes me choke when Hondurans claim there’s no racism in this country), yet with my own eyes the black players appear the more talented, hard-working and athletic. 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…

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Honduras make it to the play-offs – part two

Dear readers,

Continued from previous post…

On Saturday, Honduras went to Costa Rica needing all three points to keep any hope of qualifying alive, while Costa Rica only needed a point to qualify. The omens were not good. The optimism I spoke of in the previous post had deserted me and I was preparing for the worst. I sat through most of the game playing with Vicente or reading Dr No. I grew into the game after a while, seeing that Honduras had changed their style somewhat, frustrating the Ticos with short quick passes, being more compact and defensive, hitting the opposition on the counter with more clinical and cunning attacks; in short, Honduras playing to their strengths. It was more Italian or Mourinho than the mediocre caos we’d seen before. Pinto had changed the formation, at last, from 4-4-2 to 4-2-3-1. I didn’t know of many of the players, but Maynor Figueroa, the former Wigan Athletic and Hull City defender, lead by example from the back. The whole back line looked more organised, and Emilio Izaguirre, who in my opinion has always saved his better performances for Celtic, who for once looked interested on the left. Johnny Palacios was cracking skulls and intercepting crosses, and Beckeles, who is usually unfairly made the scapegoat when things go dire, was solid on the right.

Pinto seemed done with certain midfielders. Mario Martinez, the hot-headed little oik who has never fulfilled his potential, is lost in the depths of a team in San Pedro Sula; the former Wigan player, Roger Espinoza, who I think was one of Honduras’s better players, hasn’t appeared in an age; Wilson Palacios isn’t anywhere near contention; and Andy Najar seems permanently crocked in Beligum.

Instead, he selected Bryan Acosta, who now plys his trade for Tenerife in Spain, and Alfredo Mejía, who with his beard looks more of a thinker than a footballer; just as well because he plays his club football in Greece. The two did a superb job of keeping the ball and shielding the defence, the providing short, quick passes to the attacking front line that included Romell Quioto on the left, Alex Lopez in the middle and Elies on the right, then the giant Eddie Hernandez, who plays for my Honduran club, Motagua.

The team looked organised. Of course, the keeper Escober was kept busy, but they were convincing, keeping the ball out of their half by passing it out neatly, then running with the ball when they reached the opposition’s half. And the stats speak millions: Honduras’s 11 attacks to Costa Rica’s 6. The neutrals would have thought the game was a bore. But Honduras were bossing their opponents, and Costa Rica’s emotions were beginning to spill over.

Mid-way through the second half, Eddie Hernandez pounded a header into the back of the net. Cue many foul mouthed celebrations from my wife. It was game on and Costa Rica looked a bit lost and desperate. Then, in the 90th minute, the Ticos were awarded the golden ticket when the referee summoned a mysterious six minutes of injury time. Apart from a few scruffs and arguments, the game was pretty flowing and six minutes seemed excessive. The Honduran bench thought so too, and vented their rage at the assistant referee, as did my wife, and for a few minutes, I worried for the smart TV’s life. Costa Rica took this as their moment to pounce. And they did, in the 94th minute.

A 1-1 draw and many complaints of being robbed. However, it was the best I’d seen of Honduras for some time.

The Mexico game, to be continued in the next post.


Honduras make it to the play-offs – part one

Dear readers,

I consider myself a football optimist. I do believe in miracles that this wonderful sport can bring. I almost expect it. Esecially from the underdogs. The best kind of victories. Leicester City winning the Premier League in 2016 being one. Iceland’s heroics in the European Championships the same year. But even I thought Honduras were down for the count. La Garra Catracha has thrown itself the most unlikely lifeline and will now face Australia in the playoffs; two games they must win if they are to reach Russia 2018.

So why the surprise? They’ve reached the last two world cups. Why is this any different?

To say Honduras have been abysmal in this qualifying campaign is an understatement. They scraped through the first round which contained Mexico, El Salvador and Canada, who they lost to 1-0 on the way (bottom of the barrel kind of football). The second round started poorly, losing at home to Panama (somewhat of a bogey team for Honduras). They were also thrashed twice (losing 6-0 to USA and 3-0 to Mexico), conceded late goals that turned wins into draws (Costa Rica x 2, USA, and Panama) and played very slow, directionless football (a bit like England, although England were picking up results). Coupled with that, they went out of the Gold Cup without scoring an official goal, only going through to the quarter finals courtesy of French Guiana inexplicably playing the former French International and Chelsea player, Florent Malouda, of course against FIFA rules. The game finished 0-0, but the rule break meant the game was forfeited and Honduras were awarded the three points and three goals.

The redeeming factor was winning the Copa Centroaméricana earlier this year in Panama, although it didn’t really set the world alight. The team has also seemed in disarray, with the coach Jorge Pinto (the Colombian who steered Costa Rica to the quarter finals in the 2014 World Cup), using players who didn’t seem prepared for the rigors of international football and there were reports of fallings out in the squad. There were calls to bring back Carlo Costly (El Toro), still cracking skulls for Olimpia in Honduras, while people were wondering what had happened to the Honduran youth players that had been playing so well in their respective tournaments a few years back. They have been languishing in the 4th, 5th and 6th places of the qualifying round for the bulk of the campaign, and I was beginning to think that it was probably best Honduras give up on this campaign to save being embarrassed in Russia. I was also one of those calling for Pinto’s head. Well, he’s certainly taught me to eat my words, because Honduras (as always) suddenly perked up only when they absolutely, absolutely had to. And that time was last night (and Saturday).


Donald Trump: What does he mean to you?

Dear readers,

This is an open question to you really. Personally I am not a fan, as you might imagine. We hear, watch and read mountains of news items about him, all with a political agenda in one form or other. Some believe he is saving America, other say he is corrupt, an idiot, sexist, racist etc. Are we to descend into a world of chaos or is it all hot air? The one view I have had most resonance with is from Noam Chomsky, who says Trump is being propped up by the more sinister side of the Republican Party. Yet, I think most politicians are a puppet to higher powers, in one form or other, right or left. That’s the game of politics.

Now, I don’t want to enforce my opinion too much, nor am I going to speak of his policies. This is down to you. Love him or hate him, write what you think of him. Try not to get angry or aggressive with people with opposing views and resort to name calling. This is a space for intelligent debate and views, to learn from each other, rather than turning to hate.

I look forward to reading your views.

Leave your comments below.


£200 million for Neymar?

Dear readers,

I love football. Those who read my blog regularly know that I do. I’ve loved it since the age of seven. My mother has always marveled how I hold useless football trivia in my head, rather than school work.

She might well be right.

It might be nostalgia, but I feel I loved football in a more romantic age, when normal men were doing superhero flashes of skill. Take Maradona, or even Peter Beardsley or John Barnes. It made football more exciting, because on some bizarre level, you identified with the players.

The money in the game is well documented, along with the scandals and transfer fees, and they have always been there. They’re not going away. And the players, the Ronaldos and Messis. They are outstanding sportsmen, amazing athletes, up there playing head tennis with the Gods. And their stats tell the story.

But, in my humble opinion, it feels that these players like should be performing like that, considering the amount they’re paid, how much the clubs charge the fans and the TV money involved. And it’s this that brings me to the conclusion that the magic is being seived out the game. Don’t get me wrong, the Messis and Ronaldos work hard and perform well, but it’s no longer a surprise when they score an overhead volley because they do it every week and they are paid huge amounts of dosh. Call me envious, you might be right. I understand they still have to go out there and do the job, while taking smacks, kicks, criticism etc. However, if they scored the same overhead volley while tied up, playing the violin and dressed as a dolphin, I might stop yawning.

Yet again this summer we’re seeing even more millions being spent on transfer fees and wages, especially in the Premier League, for players I have never heard of. Daniel Levy, the Tottenham Hotspurs director, has already spoken of the other clubs’ irresponsible behaviour in the transfer market and the importance of balancing the books, and I agree. At the same time in the UK, I read in the British press that NHS is going up in smoke, poverty on the rise, and reports of yet another economic crash on the way; the whole football industry it feels a bit morally bankrupt to me.

Then we have the recent insane bid for the Brazilian superstar Neymar. He currently plays for Barcelona. Paris St Germain have reportedly bid around £200 million. Yes. Catch your breath and read that again. £200 million. For a football player. One man. There have been other crazy bids that have given me a wet fish slap over the years, but this one makes me question whether the sport has spiralled out of control.

I’m not naive enough not to mention shirt sales and other revenue he can bring to the club. Just think though, one rash challenge could wreck his season, or worse, his career. You wouldn’t wish that on anyone, yet it happens.

Some say the money goes back into the game, but I’m less sure about that. These deals go to the club or the agents, etc. I could go on all day, yet I want to see if there’s anyone out there who thinks this is good for the beautiful game. At the moment, it’s a sport I’m increasingly becoming detached from. Well, that is until the Premiership kicks off again in two weeks or so, but until then, I’ll sit and remain in disgust while the game spins out of control without a ball being kicked.


Two years married, with many more to come

Dear readers,

Pamela Cruz Lozano. She’s lying next to me right now. She’s looking at pictures of dogs. Our own, Vicente, is outside, in need of Valium, as do many five month old puppies. Pamela is my wife.

Two years to this day, this very moment, we were walking down the ailse. I was a couple of gin and tonics to the good, a little something to settle my nerves, courtesy of my cousin Sam (we later danced to his song, Poets). I was sure of everything going well, as I was about (and still am) about spending the rest of my life with the woman next to me now, as woods and barks echo from her phone.

I remember the lamp toppling over and Jordan Kenny and Dennisse Cruz Lozano being the best man and maid of honor swallowing the bread of Christ, despite them being more atheist these days than Richard Dawkins. I remember nearly toppling over as well taking the rosary beads to the statue of Mary. Friends and family surrounding me. Pamela with happy tears in her eyes.

We wed at the church in Miraflores. Our house now stands a stone throw away. I sometimes take Vicente there for walks around the car park. Churches have always given me a sense of peace, as it does for many, even before I became Catholic. But these walks always remind me of that night. That life-changing night. That moment.

Strangely, with all the superstition surrounding weddings, we just had a black month in the house. Usually this is associated with bad omens. Death even. Yet in other cultures it’s an out with the old and in with the new, the mark of positive times to come. My wife, being the bubbly and positive, have helped me think the same way.

So let the moth be a great omen, after an already couple of great years of marriage.

Te amo mucho.


Election Day

Dear readers,

Another f–king election? I can’t stand the b—–d things anymore. I know many of you are reading this and thinking, “at least you get the right to vote.” And you’re right. Absolutely right. People have lost their lives to enable me to vote. Yet I still feel compelled to hate elections. Why? Because I’ve been on the losing side for the last God knows how many. Even when I have had no right to vote and it’s in a different country entirely, I’ve lost. Referendums and independence votes: lost. I feel like a bad luck omen. But I guess many others feel the same. Bad loser? Oh yes. Inability to face reality; yep. Yet with the direction the world is going, I feel I’ve voted on the right side of history, so to speak. I have to give myself credit.

We’ve had an avalanche of elections of late. The UK has had to vote on something every year since 2014. There’s been the US (disaster), France (that one was moderately better), Holland (much better) and Honduras (in November). We’ve seen a rise in the far right, or in some cases left, and also “non-traditional” candidates taking a stand, in Honduras’s case Salvador Nasarrala, who was originally a political/football journalist. In Guatemala they have a former comedian. And it all goes to show that voters are fed up the technocrats and bureaucrats who have allowed corporations tax breaks and banks a free reign to behave how they please, while trying to trick the voting public by passing unpopular bills and cutting public services until they are longer viable. There’s corruption at all levels, such as the UK voting scandal back in 2015, and Odebrecht throughout Latin America, where the Brazilian construction company, possibly the biggest in the region, paid bribes to politicians to win public construction contracts. It involves a whole host of politicians, many of who are in prison or are being investigated. People are fed up of being cheated. They really do just want an honest man or woman, or what appears to be an honest man or woman, someone who they identify with, irrespective of their political experience, to take power. This is one of the reasons for Jeremy Corbyn’s rise.

The mudslinging you get with all elections, the media throwing wild, defaming allegations to sway your vote, the bullshit flowing from mouths, the mudane rhetorics, the red and blue colours of the party flags that brand empty slogans, the bogus polls, the opinions (every eejit suddenly claims to be a political genius over night, yet nobody really understands what is going on), and scoring political points over tragedies, like we have seen in the recent terrorist attacks in the UK. And then people ask why the people don’t turn up at the polling booths.

After all that, I am going to completely contradict myself and say this UK election should really have come when David Cameron resigned last year. Theresa May called for an election to try and crush Labour, yet Jeremy Corbyn has risen from the ashes and the vote seems to be closer than we think. The Tory arrogance seems to have forgotten how hated they are for seven years of very unnecessary welfare and public service cuts. And when you have a calm gentleman who looks like a Jedi come to the front promising all sorts, you can see why Corbyn has risen.

I am able to vote through my father (we have very similar political ideals, so I assure you I’ve not sold my vote) although I must say that I feel a bit of a fraud as I’ve not been in the UK since 2014. I will, as you might have guessed, for Labour. It’s not perfect, but my ideals are more inline with Mr. Corbyn. Another five years of Tory is not what the country needs, in my view. It has cut the country from Europe and alienated all. But I don’t judge Tory voters. Vote as you see best. However, for any Tories reading this, remember that judging is a Catholic sin and you’ll go to hell for that, and not just for voting the way you do. Joke, of course, but I hope, somehow, whatever the result, for a less divided nation. Furthermore, I don’t want to see another vote for another five years. I am all voted out. I have to hear all this again in the Honduran elections in the coming months, although I’m thinking of buying cotton swabs to cover my ear holes.

To conclude, let the best man win. Let it be Labour.