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.
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.
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.
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.
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…