Thursday, May 13, 2010

Palacios's refuge from kidnap tragedy

Andrew Warshaw


Wilson Palacios, the seam of iron at the heart of Honduras' World Cup midfield, knows better than most where football sits in the general scheme of things.

A year ago last Sunday, the 25-year-old Tottenham player, was informed that the grisly remains of his teenage brother Edwin, 16, had been found 18 months after his kidnapping.

The entire episode left Palacios on the verge of turning his back on football and the attendant celebrity and huge riches it had bestowed on him.

"It's true -- I did come close to retiring," he told Reuters.

"The reason why I carried on was firstly, because it's always been my dream to be a footballer but mainly it was my family and close friends, taking their advice saying 'keep going, keep going'."

In the end, Palacios found the game became a refuge from his grief.

"Football is what I do," he says simply.

Given the circumstances of that bleak day in May 2009, his form has been nothing short of astounding for Tottenham who qualified for the Champions League for the first time on the back of rock-solid performances from their team player of the season.

"From a kid I've always been quite tough, you know mentally tough and strong. I have always been tough and single-minded and that has helped."

Typically, the staunch Catholic has put his focus on the future and refuses to blame Honduran police or the authorities for a failure to save his brother.

"It's not going to bring my brother back, everyone knows that, but I suppose it does help that the police did their job.

"We left it in the hands of the law enforcement agency in Honduras and they did their job. And we left it in the hands of God, because we know that is where my brother is now. None of us is here forever.

"What happened to my brother was more than unfortunate, and his fate was terrible, but what we know now is that he is in a better place."

After delivering his club their European dream, Palacios' sights are now firmly set on confirming Honduras' arrival among the World Cup elite after a 28-year absence from the finals (June 11-July 11).

It promises to be the toughest of returns for the men from Central America with European champions Spain, Chile and Switzerland awaiting them in Group H.

The quietly spoken Palacios knows that his country, whose only previous appearance in the finals was in 1982, faces strong opposition but just being in South Africa represents the pinnacle of his career.

Honduras went to Spain '82 as rank outsiders but although they went out at the group stage, they exited with huge credit after a 1-1 draw with the host nation, a 1-1 draw with Northern Ireland and a a narrow 1-0 defeat to Yugoslavia who only beat them with an 87th minute penalty.

Hopes are now high that Honduras can at least honor the memory of those performances.

"For the country and my people, it's amazing, and also, especially, for my family (after what we have been through)," Palacios said.

"It's so long since we've been there, over 25 years. It's a tough group but it's a chance for us to do well and we're really looking forward to it."

After proving himself in the top flight with Birmingham City and Wigan Athletic, he moved to Spurs in January 2009 and believes he is well prepared for the cauldron of a World Cup.

He says Honduras will fear no-one, not even Spain, one of the hotly fancied teams in South Africa, and their fearsome striker Fernando Torres.

"We all know that Torres is one of the best strikers in the world. Even when I was back in Honduras I used to watch Spain. I know what qualities the whole side have got but we have good players too.

"On a personal level, yes it has been an extremely tough year. But all you can do is keep focused and keep moving forward. Off the field I am just an ordinary guy. My motivation is kicking a football."

GetRTR 3.00 -- MAY 13, 2010 14:04:01

Caption: Tottenham Hotspur's Michael Dawson, right, and teammates Wilson Palacios, second right, and Ledley King celebrate after defeating Manchester City in their English Premier League soccer match at the City of Manchester Stadium, Manchester, England, Wednesday May 5, 2010. [AP/Tim Hales]

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