In what has the potential to be quite an interesting group (despite the presence of Switzerland) Honduras sit astride the Who Should I Cheer For? rankings like a veritable colossus. Chile, on the other hand, rank the lowest of any of the South American countries and lie a lowly 23rd. However, these bare statistics cover a multitude of subtleties.
On the footballing side, Chile finished second only to Brazil in South American qualifying, cutting a swathe through the continent with their ultra attacking line-up, starring play-maker Matias Fernandez, the twinkly Alexis Sanchez and tubby goal machine Humberto Suazo. And thats without even mentioning one of the greatest of a long line of flop Liverpool wingers, Mark Gonzalez. In a frustratingly cagey tournament thus far, Chile, with their 3 at the back formation and commitment to pouring numbers forward, bear a weight of expectation, and unlike many of the teams in the past week, will be eager to get a victory under their belt in the opener, with tougher games to come.
Honduras passage to the finals was somewhat less stylish, edging out Costa Rica in the CONCACACACACAF section, but they will be hoping to prove the doubters wrong over the next few weeks. The three Palacios brothers, including star midfielder Wilson, add a touch of pathos to the team, having discovered last year that their younger brother Edwin, who had been held hostage by a gang in Honduras for 2 years, had been found dead.
Despite relatively high levels of inequality, Hondurans desperately low national income, high numbers of chronically hungry, low carbon emissions and low levels of military spending means that they are ranked highly in the supportability stakes. However, it should be borne in mind that the current president was elected under the conditions of a military coup dtat last year, and many countries around the world, including those of MERCOSUR have refused to recognise the results.
Leftist President Manuel Zelaya had been ousted by the military after a constitutional dispute with the Honduran Supreme Court, and the national teams qualification for the World Cup last year was achieved against a background of the suspension of human rights.
Chile offer quite a contrast to this turmoil. In the twenty years since the military junta of General Pinochet was ended by plebiscite, Chile, thanks to stable government and sensible economic policies, has prospered. From the depths of poverty in the middle of the last century, Chile is now one of the most prosperous nations in South America, and last year became the first country in the region to join the OECD.
Poverty has been reduced from 45% in the 80s to below 14% today, and Chile is a net creditor rather than a debtor, a remarkable achievement.
This has been achieved under a series of centre left governments, culminating with the 4 year term of Chiles last president, Michelle Bachelet. The first woman in Latin America to hold such an office, Bachelet is a qualified paediatrician and epidemiologist, an avowed agnostic, and in 2008, was voted 15th in Time Magazine’s list of the worlds most influential people.
Furthermore, her father was tortured to death under the Pinochet regime, and she pledged her presidency to eradicating poverty in Chile, and reducing one of the highest rates of inequality in the world. She built huge numbers of crches for poorer children, established a minimum state pension, significantly extended free healthcare, and abolished the last of the slums with an enormously subsidised housing programme, ending her term earlier this year with approval ratings of 84%. That said, the less said about her Harvard-educated right-wing billionaire successor the better.
The already impoverished Honduran people have had a lot to put up with in the past 12 months, and their underdog credentials are undeniable, but while the Who Should I Cheer For? rankings may give the impression that this match is a cut and dried affair, Chile’s achievements in escaping from poverty and despotism should nonetheless be celebrated. And if they bring their form from the qualifiers to South Africa, their football could be similarly fted by a worldwide audience starting become jaded by footballing conservatism.
Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the World Development Movement.