Wednesday, June 16, 2010

2010 World Cup: Honduras

Honduras kick off their 2010 World Cup campaign against Chile at lunchtime.

Not a team with much World Cup history, their debut came in 1982 when draws against Northern Ireland, Spain and defeat to Yugoslavia condemned them to a first round exit.

Their international debut came in 1921 wheny the slumped to a forgettable 10-1 defeat to Guatemala.

Strangely, however, Honduras are one of the few countries to have become embroiled in a war after a football match.

Actually things aren't quite as simple as that. Issues of immigration, land reform and economics had led to simmering resentments between Honduras and El Salvador for years.

But matters came to a head in 1969 when the two teams met in the qualifiers for the 1970 World Cup. Honduras won 1-0 at home. This result led teenage football fan Amelia Bolanios to shoot herself through the heart. She became a martyr in El Salvador and a symbol of the battle against Honduran oppression.

The return leg in San Salvador saw the Honduran flag burnt and a dirty rag raised on the stadium's flagpole in its place. The tensions were now at breaking point. El Salvador won the return match meaning a play off was scheduled for 27th June in Mexico City.

On the 26th of June El Salvador broke off all relations with Honduras. They won the play-off 3-2 but the result was immediately followed by border skirmishes between the two countries and talk of widespread reprisals against Honduras' large, often illegal and increasingly oppressed El Salvadoran immigrant community.

The situation gradually worsened. On the 14th of July El Salvador launched an air and land assault on Honduras sparking a four day conflict that has become known as the Football War.

By the time the United States stepped in and demanded a ceasefire Honduras had lost around 100 troops and 2000 civilians. El Salvador lost 900 troops and 300000 El Salvadorans were forced to flee Honduras and become unwelcome refugees in their homeland.

Both countries suffered years of economic hardship and El Salvador's lengthy civil war was an eventual consequence of the conflict. Honduras' military regime saw its grip on power strengthened by the war and the country wouldn't enjoy democratic elections until 1981.

Football wasn't the cause of the Football War but it was the spark that lit the existing tensions and the short conflict scarred both countries for years.

No doubt we'll be treated to ITV's normal disdainful treatment of "little" Honduras.

I'd hazard a guess that few countries in South Africa have the game so emblazoned in their national identities, or are so aware of the tragedies that can unfold because of 90 minutes of football, as the Hondurans.

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