Honduras are hoping to make history by reaching the final four l of the Rio 2016 Men’s Olympic Soccer Tournament with a win over South Korea in the quarter-final.
In their final group game Argentina and Honduras faced off with a quarter-final berth on the line. Both teams came into the match with three points with Honduras holding a slim one goal advantage in goal differential.
In a tight and tense match, Anthony Lozano gave his side the lead from the penalty spot after both teams had already missed a spot kick. With elimination on the line for Argentina the South American pushed for two goals to keep them in the competition.
In the third minute of stoppage time Mauricio Martinez scored on a deflected free kick to tie the score 1-1. Argentina put pressure on the Honduras defense in the remaining minutes of stoppage time but could not find a goal.
Anthony Lozano did not think twice about answering the call to represent Honduras at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Rio 2016. Even though his club could have refused to release him and he has been the subject of criticism back in his homeland on several occasions, he persuaded his employers, Tenerife, that his national team were destined for great things in Brazil.
“I’m convinced that this group is going to make history and that this is just the start. That’s why I was so eager to come,” the 23-year-old told FIFA.com after progression to the knock-outs has been secured.
Adding: “We came here with our minds set on winning a medal, after Honduras progressed courtesy of a 1-1 draw in which he scored a penalty. That’s what keeps us motivated. We took a step forward today but we can’t settle for coming this far. We’ve stuck together, we’ve dug deep in both games in which we’ve had to, and here we are, through to the next round and humbly improving.”
Lozano was part of the Honduras Olympic squad that was sent home at the quarter-final stage from London 2012 after a heartbreaking 3-2 defeat to Brazil. This time the Catrachos are hoping to go one better, only South Korea stand in their way.
“We’re a group with belief. That’s been the key in both squads I’ve been a part of. They’ve been two groups that felt ready for big things. We’ve got a lot of highly talented players.” Lozano continued.
Adding: “We go back a long way. I know their characteristics and they know mine. We know each other from Olimpia, where we played together for a long time. That’s partly what’s allowing us to perform so well together and be successful. Granted, it should also be noted that the team are playing to our strengths, which helps us.”
Lozano became the youngest player ever to feature in the Honduran top flight, making his debut at 15 for Olimpia. As a teenager he gained the nickname ‘Choco’ because of his dark colored skin and eventually outgrew his humble Central American beginnings as he searched for a new challenge.
The teenage Lozano had his first European adventure with Valencia and Alcoyano, an experience that he described as “fundamental, it had a positive impact on my life”. He headed back to Honduras and Olimpia, where he won several trophies, before returning to Europe in 2015 on loan and enjoying a superb season with Tenerife.
When Lozano stepped up to convert the crucial penalty against Argentina it brought back memories of some of the darkest days of his career. After missing a penalty against Herediano in the quarter-finals of the 2015 CONCACAF Champions League quarter-finals, he was booed by his own supporters for three matches. He admitted that “nerves were jangling” but Lozano stayed calm.
Los Catrachos second successive last-8 appearance at the Olympics is a triumph that is hoped will filter to the main squad for the 2018 World Cup. The Honduran team achieved new heights in the previous two tournaments where despite disappointing showings in both World Cup finals, getting to the 2010 and 2014 tournaments were notable enough for a nation that had previously been only once, in 1982.
As plenty of countries can attest (Nigeria, Mexico, Uzbekistan, Serbia), success at the youth level doesn’t necessarily lead to the same at the senior level. But Honduras is in a different place than it was four years ago, and the standards of success are different. This is a country now accustomed to being at the World Cup, but one that may not make it to the final round of CONCACAF qualification. The players coming up the ranks from this Olympic team can give fans hope that if they miss out on Russia, it will be a bump on the path to international relevancy, rather than a return to relative anonymity.
For now though, the quarter-finals are coming. Honduras’ young core won’t be focused on September’s World Cup qualifiers against Canada and Mexico, but several players are likely to be part of the squad when the road to Russia begins next month.
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