Soccer

World Cup a source of unification in Honduras: Guevara

Soccer divides fans' loyalties, but it can also bring people together. Toronto FC midfielder Amado Guevara hopes it can unify his native country.

'I hope the politicians take a lesson,' says TFC star

Amado Guevara, far right, hopes Honduras's World Cup qualification can help to bring peace and unity to his homeland. ((Rodrigo Abd/Associated Press))

Soccer divides fans' loyalties, but it can also bring people together.

Toronto FC midfielder Amado Guevara hopes it can unify his native country.

Guevara, captain of Honduras's national team, fulfilled a boyhood dream in October when his country clinched a berth at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in dramatic fashion. Entering the last round of the CONCACAF qualifiers, Honduras, nicknamed Los Catrachos, needed to win in El Salvador and hope the United States - which had already qualified - would not lose to Costa Rica.

Guevara and his cohorts did their part by winning 1-0, but Costa Rica jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, a result that, if it had stood, would have sent Costa Rica to the World Cup, and Honduras into a two-game playoff series against mighty Uruguay, with a World Cup berth at stake.

The Americans fought back, though, and earned a 2-2 draw thanks to an equalizer in injury time, allowing Honduras to book their flight to South Africa next summer and setting off wild celebrations on the streets back home.

And while World Cup qualification was special enough for Guevara, the magnitude of Honduras's achievement was even more meaningful in light of the current situation in the politically embattled Central American country.

Ever since a military coup led to the ouster of democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya this past June, Honduras has been plunged into a state of bedlam and turmoil.

Zelaya was arrested at his home and exiled from the country, sparking months of civil unrest over the country's ongoing constitutional crisis. Zelaya eventually snuck back into Honduras and was granted asylum in the Brazilian Embassy.

Hoping for unity

Guevara believes Honduras's World Cup qualification can bring unity and stability to his homeland at a time when the country is steeped in political chaos and uncertainty.

"I hope the politicians take a lesson from what's going on with the team, that Honduras is a country that can stay unified, regardless of any political problems going on," Guevara recently said through an interpreter.

"Here with the World Cup qualification, the people have gotten together, have put their faith in God ahead of everything else and seem to be getting an objective, which is unity. Hopefully the politicians can take a lesson from that."

You could hardly blame Guevara and his talented teammates, including fellow midfielder Wilson Palacios, a star in the English Premier League with London-based club Tottenham, if they felt burdened by the weight of expectations from a citizenry starved for something - anything - good to happen.

Instead, the plight of his countrymen inspired Guevara.

"It's not that I was focused or not focused on the political situation and the problems that were going on back in the country," the midfielder explained. "My motivation was winning the [El Salvador] game, not only for ourselves, but also for all Hondurans."

To understand what qualifying for the World Cup means to the Honduran people, you need only look at the reception the team was given on its return home.  Guevara and his teammates had modest celebration plans, but they ended up having an audience with interim Honduran President Roberto Micheletti 

"What happened was that, as a team, we were going to visit the Virgin of Suyapa [an 18th-century statue of the Virgin Mary] to give our thanks for what happened," Guevara explained. "Unfortunately, with all the people that were clustered around us - there were about 30,000 people at the airport alone - we couldn't go anywhere. We were stuck.

"So we just started getting out of the bus and going our own way home and a few of us ended up at a place with the president, and that's when he extended us an invitation."

This is not the first time Honduras will walk out onto soccer's grandest stage.

Faint memories

Los Catrachos's lone previous World Cup appearance came in 1982 in Spain when it did well to draw Northern Ireland and the host nation, before losing to Yugoslavia and being eliminated in the first round.

Guevara barely remembers the tournament - he was only six years old at the time - but he has drawn inspiration from the '82 team.

"Today I watch videos of [the '82 tournament] and I feel the euphoria of what was going on back then, but it really wasn't something that captivated him at the time," Guevara said.

And don't expect Honduras to simply make up the numbers in South Africa.

"We're not going just to participate, we're going to compete," Guevara promised. "We have a great coaching staff so we'll be well-prepared going into the tournament."

Only time will tell if peace will be achieved in Honduras before the World Cup, but in the meantime, Guevara has a message for the politicians:

"As captain of the national team, more than anything I hope for normality; for the people to be unified and for things to go back to the way they were; for the problems to be resolved; and for peace."

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