Hands off Honduras; hands off soccer

Honduras once fought a brief war against El Salvador (known as the football war) in the aftermath of a contentious World Cup qualifying match between the two countries. Now politics threatens again to intrude on Honduras’ World Cup qualifying campaign, as well as that of the United States.
Here’s the background. Three teams from North America will qualify for the 2010 World Cup. A fourth will have the opportunity to qualify by defeating a South American team in international soccer’s version of a wild-card game. The South American opponent is likely to be fairly formidable, so qualifying as one of the top three teams in North America is quite important.
Four teams remain in contention for the three spots. They are the U.S., Mexico, Honduras, and Costa Rica. The standings currently have them tightly packed in that order.
The U.S. is scheduled to play Honduras on October 10 in Honduras. A win would see us through to the World Cup. A U.S. loss would leave us needing to defeat Costa Rica in Washington DC in the final match of the qualifying tournament. A loss by Honduras would be a severe setback for them.
The U.S. should be at the point where we can expect to beat Honduras in any venue, but we are not. Our team almost always struggles to defeat decent Central American sides in the extremely hostile environments their fans create. Under the best of circumstances, Honduras would be favored in this match.
The current circumstances raise additional issues. There has been talk that the international soccer bureaucracy might cancel the match due to concerns about security in Honduras given the current troubles. But unless things change, this won’t happen. The protest activities have not risen to the level where they pose real security concerns. In fact, a Mexican club recently played in Honduras in a regional club competition and there were no problems.
There has also been talk that the U.S. might bar its team from going to Honduras as part of its attempt to punish the government for ousting the would-be Honduran dictator, a buddy of Hugo Chavez. Such an action would be astonishing. The U.S. competes internationally against all manner of regimes, including ones that are evil, not just insufficiently left-wing. Most recently we sent a horde of athletes to Red China for the Olympics. And we have sent our soccer team to Havana when World Cup qualifying demanded it.
As misguided as this administration is, I don’t see it forcing our team to pull out of the Honduras match unless real security concerns emerge. (If nothing else, Obama would not want to alienate Hispanic soccer fans). So far, there is no indication that the government plans such action.
The match, then, will probably be played. In the current climate, the Honduran fans can be expected to create an environment that’s even more hostile than normal to our team.
Meanwhile, our government has already dealt a blow to soccer in Honduras, specifically to the Marathon club that’s competing in the club competition I mentioned earlier. Marathon had a match here in Washington last week against DC United. Due to travel restrictions imposed by the Obama administration, the team had to take a circuitous, time-consuming route to Washington. It arrived the same day as the match, I believe.
DC United proceeded to thump Marathon 3-0, a score that may prove decisive in determining who will advance in the tournament (a 1-0 loss, for example, would have left Marathon ahead of United in the standings on goal difference).
These days, no one loses to DC United 3-0 unless they are very tired or very bad.

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