Last Minute Invitees Honduras Shocked the Footballing World By Finishing Third at the 2001 Copa America
Honduras is a tiny nation in Central America that was once a Spanish colony along with the rest of Latin America. The Honduras national football team has only won a single continental championship in its entire history – the CONCACAF Championship (now called the CONCACAF Gold Cup) in 1981. But the Honduras squad that was invited at the 2001 Copa America in Colombia scripted history by eventually finishing third at the world’s oldest continental tournament. Alongside finishing in third place, Honduras’ Amado Guevera won the Best Player Award in Colombia (the only instance of a player from an invited nation winning the accolade).
But, how did Honduras manage to finish third in a competition where South American heavyweights like Brazil and Uruguay were also participating. Under what circumstances did the Hondurans take part in their first and only Copa America tournament till date? And how did the small invited country achieve the feat of finishing on the podium in their first ever appearance in the South American tournament.
FootTheBall takes a look at the incredible and unbelievable journey of the Honduras national football team as we count down the days until the 2021 Copa America kicks off in Argentina’s famed Estadio Monumental in Buenos Aires this summer.
HOW DID HONDURAS GET INVITED TO THE 2001 COPA AMERICA?
The Honduras national football team hadn’t even been invited to the 2001 Copa America being hosted by Colombia. Originally Colombia had sent out an invitation to the North American country Canada to take part in the tournament as guests along with fellow CONCACAF side Mexico, but due to security issues in the host country CONMEBOL mulled over the cancellation of the tournament, eventually going ahead with the decision only to renege on its decision some days later.
Thus, when the tournament was initially cancelled, Canada withdrew its national squad as its players rejoined their respective clubs (Costa Rica replaced the Canadians in Colombia that summer). The Argentine Football Association followed suit, claiming that its players had received death threats from terrorist organisations and groups in Colombia, therefore making it impossible for La Albiceleste to take part in the quadrennial tournament.
Eventually, the Honduras national football team was invited with a somewhat depleted squad after the tournament got underway in Colombia. The Hondurans commuted to Colombia on a plane provided by the host country’s air force, arriving just a few hours before the start of their first game.
When the Honduras squad landed in Medellin, they didn’t know that they would be lighting up the tournament with their performances throughout the group and knockout stages and eventually finishing third at the tournament just behind fellow invitees Mexico (who finished as runners-up) and host nation Colombia who won the tournament on home soil.
HONDURAS UPSET TRADITIONAL SOUTH AMERICAN HEAVYWEIGHTS
Honduras clashed with Costa Rica in their opening group game, losing to their fellow Central Americans 0-1, but in the next two matches Los Catrachos won in matches with Bolivia and tournament favourites Uruguay to finish second overall in Group C and book a quarter-final meeting with the mighty Brazilians in the knockout stage.
Everyone expected Brazil to triumph against a relatively inexperienced and seemingly weaker Honduras (given the fact that a host of star players were absent from Honduras’ squad). But La Bicolor caused a huge upset in the quarter-final as an own goal from Juliano Belletti and a stoppage-time goal from Saul Martinez ousted the Selecao from the tournament.
HONDURAS WIN HISTORIC BRONZE MEDAL AT 2001 COPA AMERICA
The Hondurans were ultimately tamed by hosts Colombia in the second semi-final as a goal in either half from Los Cafeteros dumped Honduras into the third place play-off where they were joined by fellow Group C side Uruguay. But it is commendable on the part of the Hondurans that they remained unfazed by their heartbreaking defeat in the semi-finals and were once again able to get the better of La Celeste. Honduras twice took the lead in the bronze medal match only for the Uruguayans to equalise every time they went behind. Ultimately it all came down to a penalty shootout that would decide the winner of third place in the tournament.
Each team took five attempts on goal and the Hondurans were successful in all of them, thereby winning the penalty shootout 5-4 as Uruguay’s Carlos Gutierrez missed his penalty to hand the bronze medal to the invitees. Meanwhile in the final, fellow invitees Mexico finished as runners-up as Colombia secured its first ever Copa America title courtesy of a goal from Ivan Cordoba in the 65th minute. In recognition of Honduras’ extraordinary performances throughout the tournament and for his own goalscoring feats, Honduras’ Amado Guevera was awarded the accolade of Best Player of the tournament as Honduras capped off a brilliant run at the 2001 Copa America by securing a podium finish in their only appearance at the world’s oldest international tournament