FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017: Honduras' diverse teens could script tournament's fairytale underdog story

Honduras may have featured sparsely at the FIFA U-17 World Cup but over the past decade, they have developed a successful model for nurturing youth players. After making their debut at the 2007 edition in South Korea, they qualified for the prestigious youth event three out of four times.

The Los Catrachos, who have participated in three out of the four possible youth eventsdid not have the best result in South Korea as they failed to open their account. At the 2009 World Cup in Nigeria, Honduras finished the group without a single win. However, they reached the quarter-finals of the 2013 event in the United Arab Emirates but then missed out on qualifying for the 2011 edition.

In 2015, Honduras again had a poor showing as they exited at the group stage without registering a win. It has been a roller-coaster ride for the team, who boast a lot potential, but fail to deliver the goods on the pitch.

Honduras U-17 team pose before their CONCACAF qualifier against USA U-17. Credit: US Soccer

Honduras U-17 team pose before their CONCACAF qualifier against USA U-17. Credit: US Soccer

Meanwhile, it’s almost hard to imagine how Honduras have never lifted the CONCACAF U-17 Championship in 16 previous attempts. The Catrachos came close when they hosted the competition two years ago, only to fall 0-3 to Mexico in the final.

Honduras reached the CONCACAF U-17 Championship as second in the Central American qualifying rounds, behind the high-flying Costa Rica. In the finals phase, they were floored by host country Panama, but managed to recover and reached the classification round with a win over Curacao and Haiti. Despite falling 3-0 to the United States, Honduras sealed their ticket to India with a sensational 7-1 win over Cuba, thanks to hat-tricks from Carlos Mejía and Patrick Palacios.

With six points, they finished level with El Salvador and Nicaragua in the group, but Nicaragua missed out due to goal difference. Honduras coach Jose Valladares is considered the mastermind behind developing a select group of talented teenagers and has entered the history books of Honduran football after guiding the national side to the U-17 World Cup for the third time under his leadership.

Valladares, who has become an epitome of professionalism back in his home country, reportedly sold salt, socks and sweets in popular markets to help his mother meet their basic needs. The 55-year-old's journey to the pinnacle of coaching is remarkable, and it involved a lot of effort and dedication.

"Few Hondurans expected more than a simple Honduran participation at the time of my hiring, especially after the elimination of the U-20 side to the hands of Nicaragua. And I think the only ones who expected something else were junior soccer leaders and coaches," Valladares was quoted as saying by La Tribuna.

Honduras head coach Jose Valladares (middle) and his mother Angela Rosinda Moncada (right) after the 2015 CONCACAF Under-17 Championship. Credit: CONCACAF website

Honduras head coach Jose Valladares (middle) and his mother Angela Rosinda Moncada (right) after the 2015 CONCACAF Under-17 Championship. Credit: CONCACAF website

"From the beginning of my career, they know me for working at any time, in any climate and for knowing the difficulties that one lives in those dusty fields," he added.

In his opinion, the country must invest more in youth-level football because it is where Honduras will find talents, like forwards Mejia and Palacios who have the ability to turn the game on its head in no time.

Mejia netted seven goals, including a hat-trick against Cuba at the CONCACAF tournament. Of his seven goals, five came off his left foot in open play, one from a successful penalty kick, and one from a rebounded put-back following his own blocked penalty kick attempt. Despite their poor attacking record, Mejia's bagged a number of goals, and at the mega event in India, Honduras' hopes will rest on the 17-year-old.

However, Valladares voiced his concern about the star player's recent injury issues. "Carlos (Mejia) is now injured but we pray to God that he gets better by the day so that he can play. He was our best player at the CONCACAF event and has great potential to become one of the best. So, we are hoping he'll recover before the start of the event," Valladares told Firstpost on the sidelines of the official U-17 draw in Mumbai on 7 July.

Honduras were drawn in a tricky group with Japan, New Caledonia, and France, and Valladares said that his side will have to be prepared well in advance to face strong sides.

"We understand that every event is a difficult one. The rivals, two of them are very strong such as Japan and France. It is the first time for New Caledonia, so we have to be prepared," said Valladares.

"We reached the quarters of the World Cup which took place in the United Arab Emirates but we are here to fight just like every other team and reach the final. We are very much satisfied with the team, the players are a mix of technical capabilities and our team is diverse," he concluded.

Updated Date: Sep 28, 2017 16:38 PM

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