The 1969 war between El Salvador and Honduras was nicknamed the "La guerra del fútbol" meaning "The Football War". Although this war resulted after the football matches between the two countries, there are many reasons for tensions to boil over into a full-scale war.
The "football war" and its origins
It is important to note that the "football war" did not result directly from the football match. The roots of the conflict go back to the geopolitics in the region. Honduras was deeply afflicted with problems of migration of people from El Salvador.
The government in Honduras had deep-seated skepticism of the migration taking place. This skepticism resulted in state-sponsored violence against Salvadorans in Honduras. Honduras later adopted a land reform policy that forcibly seized land from Salvadorans and awarded the same to Honduran citizens.
This created tensions and resentment between the two countries. The political scenario made it worse. But the final straw was the FIFA World Cup qualifiers playoffs between the two countries. Political tensions combined with footballing rivalry made the situation highly explosive in the region. All of these factors contributed to this unique war called the "football war".
The violence in the football stadiums, followed by violence against Salvadorans in Honduras, prompted the Salvadoran government to attack Honduras.
Ricardo Otero, a Mexican sports journalist working for Univision, summarized the entire situation regarding the "football war" accurately.
"There were much bigger political matters,""But there was this coincidence of three games to qualify for the 1970 World Cup. It didn't help. Football here [in Latin America] is very, very passionate - for good and for bad."
The football match between El Salvador and Honduras
Honduras and El Salvador played in a two-leg 1970 FIFA World Cup qualifier in June 1969. A lot was at stake as both countries had never played in any of the FIFA World Cup tournaments before. Both Honduras and El Salvador were very keen to play at the pinnacle of world football.
The opening game, in which Honduras won 1–0, was marred by fan brawls in the Honduran capital city of Tegucigalpa. Despite being affected by the ongoing tension, the Salvadoran players put up a good fight in a hostile away atmosphere.
Honduras barely managed to pull through the match, scoring the winning goal one minute away from full-time. However, prior to the match, Honduran fans created a terrifying atmosphere for the Salvadoran team. They pelted stones at the Salvadoran team's transportation and accommodations.
The second game was hosted in the capital of El Salvador - San Salvador. El Salvador won the match 3-0 with the help of a brace from Juan Ramon Martinez. Elmer Acevedo also scored for the Salvadorans, who ran rampant on the pitch and easily dominated Honduras. This game was marred by intense violence between the Honduran and Salvadoran fans.
El Salvador terminated all diplomatic connections with Honduras on June 27, 1969, the day the final playoff match was held in Mexico City. The El Salvador government alleged that 11,700 Salvadorans had been forced to escape Honduras in the ten days since the game in El Salvador.
The crucial deciding match was hosted at the iconic Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. Around 1700 Mexican policemen were present in the stadium to monitor the situation and to prevent outbreaks of violence. From the stands inside the stadium, Salvadoran fans chanted "Murderers, murderers" towards the Honduran players and fans
The game was drawn 2-2 after 90 minutes. A lot was at stake, and tensions seemed to boil over. In the 11th minute of extra-time, Mauricio Rodriguez of El Salvador dashed into the penalty box to slot the ball into the net past the goalkeeper.
He described his experience after scoring the goal in the following words:
"When I scored the goal, I thought it's not possible with so little time left for them to draw with us, I was sure with that goal we would win."
Rodriguez also tried to explain the broader tensions with the football match:
"We felt we had a patriotic duty to win for El Salvador. I think we were all afraid of losing, because in those circumstances it would have been a dishonour that followed us for the rest of our lives.
"What we didn't know was the significance of that win and the historical importance of that goal - that it would be used as a symbol of a war. People abroad stigmatized it as the goal that started the war. The war would have happened with or without that goal."