x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Thomas is not doubting Honduras's chances

Wigan's Hendry has come a long way from a childhood where money, if not food, was in short supply as his country makes a rare World Cup appearance.

Wigan's Hendry Thomas in action for Honduras at the Beijing Olympic Games.
Wigan's Hendry Thomas in action for Honduras at the Beijing Olympic Games.

With his four-wheel drive BMW parked in the club car park, his four-bedroom house nearby, fashionable training shoes and clothes, Hendry Thomas has come a long way from a childhood where money, if not food, was in short supply. It is clear, from spending a few moments in his company, that his background was a long, long way from his current position of wealth and fame.

Now the defensive midfielder, who players for Wigan Athletic, the English Premier League side, will represent Honduras in their first World Cup for 28 years in South Africa next month with group games against Chile, Switzerland and Spain, the European champions. Thomas, with mature features that belie his 25 years, has arrived on the world stage following eight years at local club Olimpia, where he made his debut as a 16-year-old. He did not go into detail, but his childhood was clearly tough.

"We had a certain level of poverty but we always had food and never starved," said Thomas in Spanish, via an interpreter at Wigan's training ground in north-west England, while sitting next to Maynor Figueroa, his club and Honduras teammate. "I didn't play football as a way out [of the poverty]. I played football first and foremost because I loved the game and enjoyed the opportunity to play as a kid.

"Although I wouldn't go as far to say I am a millionaire, yes, football has given my family a better existence." Asked what material effect his new-found financial rewards have afforded his family back home such as expensive cars or a bigger house, Thomas either sidestepped the inquiry or the question was literally lost in translation. But he did acknowledge: "It's nice to be able to look after my family now."

The Honduran people have had a rough time in recent years, with floods causing destruction in 2008. The Central American country of less than eight million people is said to have half of its population below the poverty line, but a rare World Cup appearance will no doubt bring some pride and cheer. Honduras met Spain on their World Cup debut and managed a 1-1 draw against the 1982 tournament hosts, but finished last in their group.

Thomas - whose game mirrors that of Claude Makelele, the former France midfielder and a World Cup winner in 1998 who was famous for breaking up opposition attacks and starting new ones for his own team - is upbeat about the challenge. The Group H clash against Spain in Johannesburg on June 21 will be especially meaningful for its cultural significance. Thomas admitted there is still a Spanish feel about Honduras, which was under the European country's rule for more than 300 years.

"We are probably one of the less fancied teams in that group but it doesn't mean to say that we don't fancy ourselves [to win]. We think we have a chance. "It's not that we don't respect our opponents but we don't fear them. "I suppose the main objective first of all against Spain is to stop them from playing and put a brake on their tactics, but that doesn't mean we cannot make a nuisance of ourselves and hurt them on the counter."

Thomas is hoping that one of Spain's most dangerous players, their striker Fernando Torres, is fully fit for the tournament after undergoing knee surgery. There was an honest feel to the answer - even if it was delivered with a wide smile. Honduras will boast a big name of their own in Wilson Palacios, who was sold from Wigan to Tottenham last year for about £12 million (Dh63.6m), although Thomas says the team's main strength is their togetherness. But expect some panache, too.

Thomas's first World Cup memories are of Romario, Dunga and the free-flowing Brazilians when they won the World Cup in 1994. Honduras, it seems, are seeking a similar method. "What you will notice about us is that we play football in an entertaining way, we like to entertain the fans and I think we play a skilful brand of football. "No matter who we play against you will see that we do try to enjoy our game. Tactically we might differ depending on the opposition but the main ethic is to go out and entertain." * Reuters