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Catrachos conclude long CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying road with 2000 Sydney berth
Honduras qualified for its first Olympic Games by reaching the final of the 2000 CONCACAF Men's Olympic Qualifying tournament in Hershey, Pennsylvania, USA (the Under-23 event was played April 21-30, 2000, entirely at Hersheypark Stadium).
The Catrachos overcame Mexico 5-4 on penalties after a scoreless draw in the semifinals and went on to capture their first CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying title by defeating the home side, 2-1, in the championship match.
Though success was the ultimate destination, the road to Sydney, Australia, certainly was a challenging one.The Hondurans had to endure two preliminary rounds of qualification just to book tickets to Hershey.
Central American, first-round qualifying (played September 1999) was relatively straightforward as Honduras eliminated Nicaragua, 10-2 on aggregate, (1st leg: 6-0 away win, 2nd leg: 4-2 home win).
From there, the Catrachos proceeded to the first round of CONCACAF qualifying, where 12 teams were separated into three groups of four teams each.They were drawn into Group B, which was played over five days in Guadalajara, Mexico (April 4-8, 2000).
Honduras opened with consecutive draws, tying the host (2-2) and Costa Rica (1-1), before securing its final-round spot (along with group-winner Mexico) with a 2-0 blanking of Jamaica.
The turn-around time between Guadalajara and Hershey was less than two weeks.A subsequent internal dispute between the players and the Federación Nacional Autónoma de Fútbol de Honduras caused some anxious moments.The row, however, was settled in time for the squad to arrive in the city known for chocolate candies just hours before the start of the final round.
"We got there (Hershey) around four or five in the morning and then they woke us up at nine for the passport checks by CONCACAF officials," remembered then head-coach Ramon Maradiaga, who is currently at the helm of Honduras' CD Marathon."Anyhow, I was convinced that we would qualify despite the difficulties we had to deal with prior to the event.
"Also, I knew we had the condition and capacity to overcome these obstacles."
The event, nonetheless, didn't begin for Honduras as planned, as it lost the opener in three-team Group D, 3-0, to the United States.Forward Chris Albright scored twice (38', 77'), while midfielder John Thorrington (85') added another for the Stars & Stripes.
Maradiaga recalled: "I went into the locker room following the loss to the USA and I told the players that we had to keep our spirits and attitudes up as we are here with the support of our families and the Honduran people. Despite the obstacles in front of us, we have the ability to overcome them and achieve our objectives."
Two days later, the Catrachos rebounded with a 2-0 win over Canada thanks to goals from forwards Hesler Phillips (33') and Luis Ramirez (90').That result, combined with the Maple Leaf's 0-0 draw against the U.S. two days later, sealed them a place in semifinals against Mexico.
"After the game against Canada I spoke with the team and made it clear that our objective was not yet realized," said Maradiaga, who as a player led Honduras to its first FIFA World Cup appearance at Spain 1982."There was the most important game of this event, against Mexico, whom we had already faced in the previous round, as well as the year before in Winnipeg, Canada (1999 Pan American Games gold medal match, 3-1 loss), so we knew what could be achieved."
On April 28, with Olympic football on the line, Honduras battled defending CONCACAF champion Mexico to a scoreless draw after regulation and extra time; penalty kicks were required to determine one of the confederation's two places in Sydney.
Midfielder Juan Pablo Rodriguez missed the first attempt for the Tricolores with a shot that went wide of Catrachos goalkeeper Noel Valladares.Though Mexico hit on all of its remaining kicks (Rafael Marquez, Luis Ernesto Perez, Jorge Collazo, Hector Atlamirano), Honduras went a perfect five-for-five (David Suazo, Francisco Pavon, Maynor Suazo, Junior Izaquirre, Hector Guiterrez).A place in the tournament final and a trip to Australia was the reward.
"Playing against Mexico was motivation for all of us and it turned out to be great game with many good opportunities from both sides," analyzed Valladares, who is currently the captain of the Honduran national team."We came out on top on penalties and that gave us the ticket to the tournament finals and the Olympic Games."
Accompanying Honduras "Down Under" would be the U.S., which defeated Guatemala 4-0 in the other semifinal.Still, before the Summer Games, there was still a confederation final to becontested and a rematch between the Stars & Stripes-Catrachos was a mouth-watering prospect.
"There is a special saying in football 'if you meet someone you are most likely going to see them again just around the corner' and for us not having the pressure of needing to qualify for the Olympics meant that the encounter against the USA would be different than the first one," commented Maradiaga.
After Josh Wolff (12') gave the host an early lead, Honduran forward David Suazo (29', 56') answered back with a pair of goals to propel the visitors to a 2-1 victory and its first tournament title.
Maradiaga added: "The motivation to attain goals, bring happiness to the country and to know that this group of players, each of whom went through obstacles, all became pioneers in writing this chapter in the history of Honduran football, filled me with great pride that the objective was achieved."
The Catrachos went on to compete at the 2000 Olympic Football Tournament, narrowly missing out on advancement past the Group Stage with a 1-1-1 record (September 13: 3-3 draw v Nigeria; September 16: 1-3 loss v Italy; September 19: 2-1 win v Australia).
Honduras qualified for two more Olympic Games (2008, 2012), joining Costa Rica and Guatemala for the most appearances in the competition by a Central American team (three each).
Honduras' Roster - 2000 CONCACAF Men's Olympic Qualifying Tournament
GOALKEEPERS: Belarmino Rivera (CD Olimpia), Noel Valladares (CD Motagua)
DEFENDERS: Ivan Guerrero (CD Motagua), Hector Gutierrez ((Real CD España), Junior Izaguirre (CD Motagua), Walter Lopez (CD Platense), Elmer Montoya (CD Motagua), Jaime Rosales (CD Marathon), Julio Cesar Suazo (CD Victoria), Elvis Danilo Turcios (Universidad NAH)
MIDFIELDERS: Mario Chirinos (CD Motagua), Carlos Oliva (Real CD España), Francisco Pavon (CD Victoria), Maynor Suazo (CD Marathon)
FORWARDS: Orvin Cabrera (CD Olimpia), Hesler Phillips (Universidad NAH), Luis Ramirez (Real CD España), David Suazo (Cagliari Calcio/ITA).
TD: Ramon MARADIAGA
05.09.1999: Nicaragua - Honduras 0:6
12.09.1999: Honduras - Nicaragua 4:2
Third Round - Group B
04.04.2000: Mexico - Honduras 2:2
06.04.2000: Costa Rica - Honduras 1:1
08.04.2000: Jamaica - Honduras 0:2
Final Round - Group D
21.04.2000: USA - Honduras 3:0
23.04.2000: Canada - Honduras 0:2
28.04.2000: Mexico - Honduras 0:0, 4:5 pen
30.04.2000: USA - Honduras 1:2
Edwin Banegas, Federación Nacional Autónoma de Fútbol de Honduras - Press Officer, contributed to the content of this story.
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