In 1969 a third qualifier for the 1970 World Cup ended up in starting a war. The parties involved were Honduras and El Salvador. Both nations were fighting to reach the World Cup stage for the first time in their history but there were rising political tensions between the two neighboring countries.
The first leg, played in Tegucigalpa, saw Honduras grab a 1-0 win. The next match in El Salvador saw the home team win by 3-0. So a third match was needed to determine the winner and see which of the two would advance. The game was played in Mexico City where El Salvador grabbed a last-minute 3-2 victory with a goal from Mauricio “Pipo” Rodríguez.
El Salvador went on to their first-ever World Cup tournament and the next day war broke out among the two Central American countries.
Tensions Before the Match
The game was just a spark that started it all. The truth is that tensions between Honduras and El Salvador were already high. If you don’t know your history, El Salvador is a much smaller country compared to Honduras. However, Honduras has a much smaller population. So a lot of immigrants started crossing over to Honduras from El Salvador because they were pushed out by wealthy landowners.
Immigrants from El Salvador started coming in thousands and eventually started farming in Honduras as they had more land to do so and could sell to the US companies that were established there.
However, the poor Honduran farmers didn’t like immigrants taking their work. They started oppressing the Salvadorian newcomers and there were reports of both violence and rape. Tensions started to rise and the Honduran government sought to push back the flow of immigrants coming to their country while El Salvador called for the inhumane way their people were treated.
The match between the two nations came in the worst possible period.
Reports say that the war would have broken out no matter what, but the games played between the two were enough to fuel the riots even further and caused everything to escalate to massive proportions.
The 100 Hour War
On 14 July 1969 El Salvador invaded Honduras. They started with aircraft raids at first and then continued by sending in ground troops. The Hondurans retaliated and defended themselves. But everything was already blown out of proportion so much that a full-scale war was impossible to avoid.
Casualties were in thousands and it was reported that by the time the war had ended 3,000 died, mostly Honduran civilians.
On 18 July 1969 the Organization of American States managed to negotiate a ceasefire. Also, due to international pressure, and because of the mayhem Salvadoran troops were causing, they were forced to withdraw. The troops vacated Honduras on 20 July and since the war lasted less than a week it will remain remembered as the 100 Hour War.
After the war ended the nations closed off their borders and no one was able to pass from both sides. The trades between the countries ceased as well and they remain in political dispute for years to come. The relationship between Honduras and El Salvador is still shaky even today.
As far as the football side of things goes, El Salvador went on to compete in Mexico at the 1970 World Cup and lost all three of their matches without scoring a goal.