The Football War was fought by Central American countries El Salvador and Honduras in 1969. In fact, it also went by the name of the 100 Hours’ War, and in reality there were a host of issues at the root of the troubles. Migration, trade and simmering land disputes on the border all conspired to spark social unrest between the two, but it wasn’t until the best-of-three World Cup qualifiers in 1969 that the tipping point was reached.
The first game – a 1-0 win for Honduras – in Tegucigalpa witnessed disturbances but things deteriorated significantly come the second in San Salvador: visiting Honduran players endured a sleepless night before the game, with rotten eggs, dead rats and stinking rags all tossed through the broken windows of their hotel; Honduran fans were brutalised at the game, and the country’s flag and national anthem were also mocked. “Under such conditions the players from Tegucigalpa did not, understandably, have their minds on the game,” admitted the Honduras coach Mario Griffin after his team lost 3-0. “They had their minds on getting out alive. We’re awfully lucky that we lost.”
Tension continued to increase before the decisive third match in Mexico, with the press stoking the frenzy. And on June 27 – the day of the play-off – Honduras broke off diplomatic relations with their neighbour. El Salvador eventually triumphed 3-2 after extra-time, booking their place in the 1970 World Cup (where they would lose all three of their group games without scoring). By July 14, El Salvador had invaded Honduras.
When the Organisation of American States negotiated a ceasefire on July 20, approximately 1,000 to 2,000 people had lost their lives and 100,000 more had become refugees. Troops from El Salvador were withdrawn in August, but it wasn’t until 11 years later that a peace treaty between the nations was agreed. A civil war in El Salvador ensued between 1980 until 1992, when the International Court of Justice awarded much of the originally disputed territory to Honduras.
On a happier note, two years previously football stopped a war – albeit temporarily. The opposing sides in the Biafran war declared a two-day truce in September 1967 so that they could watch Pele and his touring Santos team play in two exhibition matches.
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