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Needled by the damage done: Emilio Izaguirre defends Honduras over claims of World Cup rough house tactics

HONDURANS gained new-found notoriety for being hatchet men this summer, but for Celtic's Emilio Izaguirre the period has been bruising enough.

For Emilio Izaguirre, here in Celtic's pre-season friendly against Dukla Prague, criticism of Honduras's World Cup tactics still rankles but it is all about the Champions League now Photograph: SNS
For Emilio Izaguirre, here in Celtic's pre-season friendly against Dukla Prague, criticism of Honduras's World Cup tactics still rankles but it is all about the Champions League now Photograph: SNS

The chance to represent your country at a World Cup in the footballing mecca of Brazil is an opportunity to be treasured forever, but it can be a painful one too: especially when the Central Americans trailed in bottom of Group E, shipping eight goals and scoring just one in the process, while numerous commentators the world over summarily declared them hammer throwers in the mould of Uruguay in Neza circa 1986.

That, of course, has never been Izaguirre's game. So the left-back takes umbrage at the perception, even if he did contribute to it. During a stormy pre-tournament tune-up match against England in Miami - this was literally the case, as the teams had to leave the field for 43 minutes to avoid the thunderclouds - the usually placid full-back escaped a red card after driving the ball from point-blank range against the nether regions of the prone Daniel Sturridge.

It wasn't the only shot he had on target that day: the Celtic defender ventured forward late in the game to test his Parkhead team-mate Fraser Forster with a shot from long distance, which the Englishman claimed with a smile.

"It was a special feeling to play for my country in such a great tournament," Izaguirre said. "We were criticised for our physical style of play. But I think teams like Argentina and Uruguay, all the Latin or South American teams, play this way. But Honduras were penalised too much for little things in Brazil. It was as if the referee was waiting to punish us, which was very unfair."

"The worst thing about the England game in Miami was the incident between myself and Sturridge," he added. "But I apologised many times to him because this is not the type of player I am. I don't like to hit other players, it's not my style of game. We shook hands at the end.

"I really wanted to score a goal against Fraser in that match because he is always annoying me. So right from the start I was trying to score and that's why in the last 10 minutes I hit a shot from the left wing - I think it was about 40 yards out - to try to get a goal against him."

Izaguirre's children were unable to travel to Brazil to watch him due to a problem with vaccines, but the family is reunited, and in football terms as well the player is back in the old routine. Having been a huge part of the Neil Lennon regime at Celtic, Izaguirre now seems set to become equally integral under the manager's successor Ronny Deila.

Along with his fellow attacking full-back Mikael Lustig, Izaguirre recently extended his contract until 2017. And the way he talks about the club, you wouldn't rule out him ending his playing days here.

"The World Cup is finished now, it's in the past," the 28-year-old said. "I'm just focused and looking forward to the new season with Celtic. I've not had a lot of rest, but it's just circumstances. I'm really happy with my condition at the moment and I'm eager to play more games now. At the moment I am very happy here. I am grateful to the team, and all the staff, and the fans. I have a long contract and I am not planning to go anywhere."

Despite a promising start to the Deila era, things could have been even better. Celtic struck the woodwork three times last Tuesday night against KR Reykavik in their Champions League qualifier and spurned various other chances prior to Callum McGregor's late winner in Iceland, which leaves the tie theoretically at least still live for this Tuesday night's second leg at Murrayfield.

As much as Celtic would love to allow their minds to wander ahead to the challenge that awaits against either St Patrick's Athletic or Legia Warsaw in the next leg, there is still a job to be completed in the unusual atmosphere of what may well be only a half-full Murrayfield.

"The most important thing is to make sure we don't think we have already qualified," Izaguirre said. "I have never been to Murrayfield before, but I am sure there will be lots of Celtic fans there.

"We will get a chance to train on the pitch the day before the match. I don't care about winning by a bigger margin, I only hope to win this match and then we will think about the next one."

Reaching the group stage is mandatory if Celtic are to improve on last season, a campaign which could neither be deemed a huge success nor a huge failure. The pursuit of players such as Forster and Virgil Van Dijk could yet heat up before the bigger play-off ties, but Izaguirre is unconcerned.

"It also happened to me. Before my injury I had a very good year and I was linked with a lot of other clubs, but I am sure even if Celtic sell one very good player they will bring in another. That is the business. The ultimate dream is to win the Champions League, but we need to look to get into the last 16, or even the last eight, and to win the two cups and the league. It is as easy as that."

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