Guerra del fútbol
2 teams, 9 goals, 270 minutes. 1 war, 100 hours, 2 to 6 thousand deaths. In June 1969, two countries united by geography and history faced each other on the field for the qualification for the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. Three football matches that have contributed to begin a war outside of the field
THE FIRST SHOT OF THE FOOTBALL WAR
"Football War: El Salvador and Honduras looking for their qualification". In June 1969, the first pages of the press in El Salvador and Honduras were devoted to the same event: the qualification for the 1970 World Cup in Mexico.
The Salvadoran team arrived to Honduras to play the first match. The welcome was not warm.
"The night before the game they didn't let us sleep, they took music, rockets and everything in order for us not to sleep well and, obviously, so that we would tired during the match," recalls the striker Mauricio "Pipo" Rodriguez.
The national press published reports of tension experienced by fans. "Hostile in Honduras with the Salvadorans', wrote publications.
The hosts managed to win. "The Honduras team could only win 1-0 against El Salvador," wrote the newspaper El Mundo, trying to minimise the loss.
Amelia Bolanios watched the match on television, in San Salvador. When Honduras scored the winning goal in the last minute of the game, the 18-year-old girl got up, ran to the desk where her father’s gun was, and shot herself.
"A young woman who couldn't bear the humiliation that her homeland was subjected to," wrote El Nacional, one of San Salvador’s newspapers, on the next day.
The first shot of the football war had been fired.
For the Salvadorans, it was a matter of honour. For the rest of the world, not really.
"Nobody in the world paid attention," wrote Ryszard Kapuscinski. The Polish journalist staying in Mexico was the only reporter from a Communist nation in the country.
In El Salvador, Amelia Bolanios’ funeral was broadcast on television and featured state honours; the young lady became a national martyr. The manifestations of nationalism demonstrations grew the expectation for the second leg.
THE SALVADORAN RETALIATION
"Hondurans arrived today”, could be read on the cover of Diario Latino on the 13th of June. The arrival of the opponents was accompanied by the Salvadoran press with detail ... and patriotism.
"A diary, El Mundo from Salvador, took a photo of us at the airport and immediately put us a bone in the nose, so we looked like cannibals' says the player Rigoberto la Shula Gómez.
The Salvadorans returned the hostile welcome that they had experienced in Honduras.
"This time, the Honduran team spent a sleepless night. The crowd broke the hotel windows and threw rotten eggs, dead rats and rags that stank at them,"Kapuscinski wrote.
The army surrounded the stadium, with police separating the crowd. "Inside the vehicles of the Armed Forces, the Team of Honduras entered the stadium the Flor Blanca”, wrote a Salvadoran publication.
The crowd booed the Honduran anthem. The country's flag was burned in front of the viewers; a rag was used instead. The audience was delirious and the beginning whistle had not even sounded..
The hosts won 3-0, but the priority of the Hondurans was to return home safely. "We were very lucky to lose," said Mario Griffin, the visiting team coach.
Despite the favourable result to Salvadorans, violence spread out to the streets. Dozens of Hondurans fans were attacked and two deaths were recorded.
With a victory for each side, the deciding game would be played on neutral ground: the Azteca stadium in Mexico.
At starting time, the conflict was worse than ever: El Salvador had broken diplomatic relations with Honduras and had closed its borders.
The recent expulsion of 300,000 Salvadorans carried out by the Government of Honduras had begun a diplomatic crisis.
El Salvador had accused the Hondurans of genocide.
The two countries started to mobilize their troops. Through the Media, the governments of both nations incited nationalism and convinced people of the need to fight a war.
"Now is the genocide to the football war"; "Football here, Guerrilla there." Sport and war were sharing the pages of Mexican newspapers.
On the 27th of June, 1969, the teams take to the field for the decisive duel. When the 90 minutes were up, 2-2 was the result.
During extra time, Mauricio "Pipo" Rodriguez beat the Honduran goalkeeper and scored 'the goal that gave the victory to El Salvador", as described by the newspaper El Sol de Mexico.
El Salvador defeats Honduras in the race for 1970The World Cup.
FROM THE FOUR LINES TO THE BATTLEFIELD
Two weeks after the game, the tension had reached its peak. On the 14th of July, 1969, El Salvador attacked Honduras.
"At dusk, a plane flew over Tegucigalpa and threw a bomb. [...] Panic swept the city. [...] Then, there was silence and all was quiet. It was like the city had died, "reported Ryszard Kapuściński.
The Polish journalist wrote his story in the dark, anxious to send news in the only telex of the city. "At that moment, I was the only foreign correspondent there and could be the first to inform the world about the outbreak of war in Central America”.
The Honduras retaliated. "Undeclared War in Central America", wrote El Comercio on the 16th of July.
"The two Governments were satisfied with the war, because during several days Honduras and El Salvador had occupied the front pages of the world press and had attracted the interest of international public opinion," wrote the journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski.
The hostilities lasted 100 hours.
"They reached ceasefire; truce begins today ", announced the newspaper Prensa Libre. The Organization of American States (OAS) negotiated the ceasefire, which came into force on the 20th of July, 1969.
"The football war lasted one hundred hours. The numbers of the way: six thousand dead, twenty thousand wounded. About fifty thousand people lost their homes and lands. Many villages were razed”, described Kapuscinski.
THE CONFLICT ON THE STANDS
The conflict was immortalised in the press - especially in Ryszard Kapuściński’s coverage – as the Football War. A misleading name.
"Many people still believe, wrongly, that this was the cause of the war," believes Mauricio "Pipo" Rodriguez, author of the goal of the Salvadoran victory.
Even before the football confrontation, the relationship between the nations was tense. The diplomatic crisis had been caused by migration issues, economy and territories. Football exacerbated old disputes and served as a tool to motivate the population for a predictable war.
Despite the conflict, the ball continued to roll. El Salvador made its debut in the 1970 World Championship in Mexico. The team didn't win any points, conceding nine goals in three games and not getting through after the group stage.
The wounds between the two countries were slow to heal; the peace treaty was only signed in 1980.
"With the signing of a peace treaty that redefines its borders, El Salvador and Honduras formalised yesterday the ending of the war declared eleven years ago between the two countries," wrote El Pais.
An ironic reconciliation, to Junín Mendoza, captain of the Honduran team in 1969.
"Honduras cut relations with El Salvador for 10 years. To get back on track, a match was organised. Funny how life works, right? "