Honduras' World Cup success a boon for the country's leaders
Bliss, pure bliss. October 14, 2009, will be remembered for the people of Honduras taking to the streets to celebrate the national team's miraculous qualification for the World Cup in South Africa.
Until that moment, Honduras had been the CONCACAF region's king of near misses. The first came when defeat by El Salvador in a playoff in Mexico deprived
But it failed to build on that success and became specialists in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. In '86, Honduras blew the chance to qualify, losing 1-0 at home to Canada after having 25 shots on goal against one from the Canadians. In '02, with Korea/Japan in sight, it suffered another 1-0 home defeat, this time by Trinidad and Tobago, which had not previously won away in the qualifiers.
Fast-forward to the current campaign and it seemed Honduras was ready for another dose of misery. It needed to defeat the U.S. at home in the penultimate group match to qualify but managed to lose 3-2 after legendary striker
That's why Bornstein's goal in Washington unleashed such an explosion of joy thousands of miles away. The Honduran players hugged and cried together on the pitch at Estadio Cuscatlán, where they had just beaten El Salvador, while millions of their countrymen took to the streets.
But there were other, deeper, reasons behind the celebrations. On July 28,
In recent months, Hondurans have had to endure the suspension of their individual liberties and the introduction of martial law. The country has become an international pariah since the new government is not recognized by any international body. In this atmosphere of extreme tension, the only thing capable of uniting the people has been the national team. World Cup qualification was the country's first good news in ages.
"Our victory will help peace return to Honduras and make people happy after months of tension," said Rueda, the team's Colombian coach. "Thank God the people can celebrate today. Today, all of us are Hondurans."
The celebrations in the streets proved him right. "We are all here, today, nobody has been left out," tearfully claimed
However, as often happens in such cases, politicians tried to exploit the sporting triumph of
"We greatly appreciate the gringos [Americans] for helping us get to the World Cup. They took away our visa, but now they gave it back to us," Micheletti said, referring to the American embargo on his government. His opponents, meanwhile, marched with the slogan "Honduras to South Africa and Zelaya to the Presidency."
Next morning, the players paraded through the streets of the capital, Tegucigalpa, on an open-top bus, among them Tottenham midfielder
The bus was diverted to pass in front of the presidential palace where Micheletti waited to be photographed with the players. "We had no clue we were going there," said defender
But to the bulk of the population, the World Cup appears to be much more important than the political situation.