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Honduras: A threat to Scotland?

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HE has gained many plaudits across the board this season, and the rise of Emilio Izaguirre is undoubtedly one of the better stories to tell of this season in Scottish Football.

But what about his background in football? What is football like in the Republican country in Central America?

I’ll admit I don’t know much about Honduran football. But the internet tells me that Motagua are one of the biggest teams in the country – and the team that Izaguirre started his career with, playing for them from 2003 until 2010 when he signed for Celtic.

Motoagua are also the second most successful, having won 11 titles since the 1966 when their professional league was formed. The most successful club are Olimpia, who have won 23 titles and boast worldwide brand Coca-Cola as their shirt sponsor.

That’s about as worldwide as it gets, on the face of things. But then you look at the FIFA rankings: as of 18th of May Honduras are 43rd in the world. Scotland are 66th. That means – on paper – Honduras are better than Scotland. Which is hard to believe, really.

And that’s not a one off – neither side have moved since the last rankings update on 13th April. Speaking at a press conference for the Carling Nations Cup yesterday, Scotland manager Craig Levein stressed the importance of the rankings, saying:

“The rankings are important, of course they are, because they have an impact on which pool you’re in for the next
tournament, for the World Cup.

“What’s even more important for me is building a team that can be successful. Of course it’s important to keep an eye on the rankings to see where we are but that isn’t my prime motivation when I’m selecting squads.”

Naturally, it’s player performances that Levein will be looking at. When it comes to player performances for Honduras, Izaguirre has so far made 45 appearances since 2007 for the Honduran national team, scoring just the one goal in the process against Trinidad and Tobago in a friendly. His appearances include the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup and the 2010 World Cup, the latter in which he got “slapped” by David Villa in their group game against Spain, the eventual winners.

So what about his fellow countrymen? A star has undoubtedly been born in Izaguirre, with many Premiership clubs tracking his progress over the last few months, but there are already some Honduran players in the English top flight.

Wilson Palacios is the most notable of the three, having played previously at Birmingham and Wigan before moving to Tottenham in 2009. Palacios started his career at Honduran side Victoria before spending six years at Olimpia, making more than 100 appearances and winning five league titles with the side. He also had trials at Red Star Belgrade and Monaco before going on loan at Birmingham, where he only made seven appearances.

At Wigan his performances were highly noted and he was linked with Manchester United, Liverpool, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid. However it was eventually Tottenham that agreed a deal with the Latics on a five-year deal worth around £12 million.

He has made 69 appearances and scored 4 goals for Honduras, since 2003. At the 2010 World Cup, he and his brothers Jerry and Johnny made history by being the first trio of brothers to play for a team at the competition.

Maynor Figueroa and Hendry Thomas currently both play for Wigan (who at the time of publishing, were in the Premiership). Figeuroa is also a left-back like Izaguirre and also started his career at Victoria before moving to Olimpia like Palacios. He has played for the national team 78 times and has been forced to move to centre-back though for the national team, because of Izaguirre’s impressive performances.

Like Figeuroa and Palacios, Hendry Thomas was also at Olimpia in his homeland. A defensive midfielder, he moved to Wigan a year after Figeuroa. He is the cousin of David Suazo, a Honduran striker who plays for Inter Milan. Suazo hasn’t played for the national team since 2009 and has had loan spells at Benfica and Genoa in his spell as an Internazionale player.

It’s not just the Premiership you’ll find Hondurans plying their trade. Ramón Núñez is a winger who is currently owned by Leeds United, but was on loan to Scunthorpe from March until the end of the season. Unlike the other Hondurans already looked at, Núñez started his career at America’s Major League Soccer side FC Dallas. A lack of opportunities saw him move back to Honduras to play for Olimpia before playing in Mexico. He then returned to Olimpia to make sure he made the World Cup squad (which he did successfully, playing all three of Honduras’ games). Since then he has extended his stay at Elland Road.

Similar to Núñez starting out in the MLS, youngster Andy Najar is the latest name to capture the imagination of Hondurans and Americans alike. Aged only 18, he has been on the books of D.C. United – starting out at the youth academy, but now a fully fledged first-team squad member. In 2010, he was voted the MLS Rookie of the Year (basically the MLS equivalent of Young Player of the Year).

He is also the youngest player in the MLS. With such potential, some fans questioned his nationality having moved to America when he was 13 and holds a “green card” thus one day making him eligible for U.S. citizenship to play for the U.S. National team. In April 2011 however, he pledged his allegiance to Honduras.

As someone with a keen interest in the MLS (and D.C. United in particular) it will be interesting for me to see how Najar progresses in his career. It’ll only be a matter of time before he is called up, at whatever level of international football whether it be Under-20 to start with and eventually the national team, or straight into the top-level. Wherever he starts he will continue to rise until one day in the future, he could be starring the way Izaguirre does just now.

A name which could be more recognisable to some football fans in Scotland would be Georgie Welcome. In August 2010 Rangers had Welcome on trial from Montagua. He scored a hat-trick against Partick Thistle in a bounce game but wasn’t given the opportunity in the Scottish game. Despite this, he spent the second half of the 2010/11 season on loan at Monaco.

Would Welcome have made the same impact as Izaguirre had Rangers signed him? I’ll suppose we’ll never know. But it shows that there is a pedigree there for the Honduran national team. Should the Scots be worried that if the sides were to ever meet, there is the chance the game won’t be as easy as everyone thinks?

Just a year ago, Honduras were the team that nobody wanted in their 2010 World Cup sweepstake, though they weren’t even the rank outsiders. The only way Scotland would meet Honduras would be one of Craig Levein’s infamous ideas: an “International Challenge Match”; or if we made the step up and actually qualified for a World Cup and drew Honduras in our group.

Until then though, we must watch and potentially fear the rise of Honduras, while still hoping that Scottish football can bring more success stories like Izaguirre to its forefront.

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