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El Salvador v. Honduras: more than just a football match

By Kim Tate



Rodolfo Zelaya (R) of El Salvador celebrates his 2nd half goal with William Romero (L) against Trinidad & Tobago during the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup match July 8, 2013 at Red Bull Stadium in Harrison, New Jersey
Rodolfo Zelaya (R) of El Salvador celebrates his 2nd half goal with William Romero (L) against Trinidad & Tobago during the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup match July 8, 2013 at Red Bull Stadium in Harrison, New Jersey

Neighboring Latin American countries El Salvador and Honduras will take center stage at Sun Life Stadium in Miami in a little over an hour in their first ever 2013 Gold Cup meeting. For spectators, it's a competitive match between two teams battling for a spot in the quarterfinals. But to these two nations, it's so much more.

These two countries have a history that goes deeper than football. Tensions escalated between the two in 1969, during the second round of North American World Cup qualifying due to issues circulating around immigration and land reform. The first game on June 6 in Tegucigalpa resulted in a 1-0 Honduran victory, and El Salvador won the following match on June 15 in San Salvador. The war began on July 14, and lasted until July 18, when the Organization of American States negotiated a cease fire between the two. Thus, the famous clash attracted the titles of 'The Football War," or "The 100 Hour War ."

During the conflict and when all was said and done, thousands of  people  were killed between both countries and around 130,000 Salvadoran immigrants attempted to return home, but going back to an already overpopulated country ended up destabilizing the Salvadoran economy. The conflict effectively ended the operations of the Central American Common Market for twenty-two years. A  ceasefire was put in place on July 20, but the final peace treaty was not signed until October 30, 1980.

During the 1960s, Salvadorans experienced more and more oppression as General Oswaldo Lopez Arellano attempted to remain in power, so they began to flee to the neighboring Honduran land. By 1966, land owners in Honduras founded the 'National Federation of Farmers and Livestock-Farmers of Honduras', with the main goal being to protect their land from Salvadoran immigrants.

The group launched a government  propaganda campaign, which ended up having a secondary effect of boosting Honduran nationalism among the populace.  This escalation of "national pride" saw Hondurans violently attacking Salvadoran immigrants through beatings and torture. Some were even murdered.  In early 1969,  the passage of a land reform act in Honduras was enacted and confiscated land from Salvadoran immigrants, redistributing it to native Hondurans.

Immigrant Salvadorans were forced to return to El Salvador and as tensions were on the rise they didn't help matters by starting to claim the land taken from them as their own.  Things escalated  when the two countries met in a series of qualifying matches for the 1970 FIFA World Cup in June of 1969.

As one could imagine, both games saw escalating riots in extreme displays of national pride.  On June 26, El Salvador announced that it would sever diplomatic relations with Honduras, and was justified by stating that Honduras had taken no action to punish Hondurans who had committed crimes, many of them violent and unreasonable, against its Salvadoran immigrants. This was the day before the deciding qualifying match between the two, played in Mexico, and where El Salvador won 3-2.

Early on the morning of July 14, the Salvadoran air force began striking targets and ground units began to center on the main roads between the countries. Salvadoran troops also moved against Honduran islands in the Golfo de Fonseca. The Salvadoran offensive was brought to a hault when Honduran aircraft hit oil facilities and depots disrupting the flow of supplies to the front.  On July 15, the OAS met in an emergency session and demanded that El Salvador withdraw, with El Salvador refused to to unless it could be assured of two things: that all would be repaired  to those Salvadorans who were displaced,  and that those who remained in Honduras would not be harmed.

The OAS arranged a ceasefire on July 18 but El Salvador still refused to withdraw its troops. It was only through the threat of sanctions that President Fidel Sanchez Hernandez's government receded.  El Salvador finally departed Honduran territory on August 2, 1969, and  El Salvador received a promise from the Arellano government, guaranteeing protection for immigrants living in Honduras.

While the final peace treaty was not signed until the 1980's, the bitter rivalry between the two nations still exists everytime they meet in a competative football match, and it's a well known fact that football is looked at as a cultural staple in some parts of Latin America, including Honduras. Earlier in 2013 when USA was visiting San Pedro Sula in World Cup qualifying, a Honduran woman was quoted on TV saying "football is all we have after our political and sociological oppression. It's right up there with our faith."

As far as this Gold Cup match in concerned, El Salvador are coming off a cracking 2-2 tie with Trinidad on July 8 where Rodolfo Zelaya netted two for his country. Honduras has been favored to win this Group B, and they beat a much improved Haitian team 2-0 on Monday night. The Gold Cup has big implications when thinking ahead to the next World Cup in 2018; the winner of this 2013 Gold Cup will face the winner of the 2015 tournament for a spot in the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia, a tuneup for WC2018.

The game between Honduras and El Salvador kicks off tonight at 6:30p PST on FOX Soccer, and both sides have talent that Americans have grown to know well through Major League Soccer and the National American Soccer League. Should be a great game and well worth a watch.