Carlos Meija injured knee before qualifying tournament but still finished top scorer Suffered a relapse ahead of India 2017, only to hit two goals so far "It's been very tough, but those experiences will help me", he says
Lightning never strikes twice, or so the old saying goes. But just try telling that to Honduras forward Carlos Mejia, who recently suffered two separate knee injuries in the space of a few months.
The first, a meniscal lesion, looked destined to keep him out of the CONCACAF qualifying tournament for the FIFA U-17 World Cup. "I had to undergo an operation," Mejia explained to FIFA.com.
"It was very difficult because, when you're young, you never imagine this kind of thing happening to you. In the end, I got a lot of support, put my whole heart into my work and was able to recover."
That is his version, anyway. Honduras coach Jose Valladares has a different recollection. "He was basically injured when he played that pre-World Cup tournament in Panama," insisted El Profe (the Teacher), fresh from his side's victory against New Caledonia in their second Group E outing. "We tried to keep him operational throughout the tournament. He was important for us, and his contribution was decisive in bringing us to the World Cup."
Stronger every day
File that away in the drawer marked 'understatements'. Practically playing on one leg, Mejia made a devastating impact, scoring seven goals in five games to book Los Catrachos their ticket to India. That was back in May, and Honduras had four months to prepare for the finals. As for Mejia, feeling sharp once again, he turned out for his club side Vida in a local tournament decider against CD Olimpia. "Unfortunately, he suffered a relapse," said Valladares. "Perhaps he didn't take it easy enough to recover from his injury and the tournament in Panama. He had to undergo another operation barely a month after returning to the pitch."
Honduras were desperate to take their star forward to India, but Mejia himself believed his chance had gone. "It was even more difficult because I thought I'd recovered perfectly and I felt good," he said. "I had to start all over again. I was really down, but my mother was a huge help to me mentally, ensuring I felt stronger every day."
The local press carried photos of Mejia hobbling around on crutches – not the most reassuring sight with just a few weeks to go before the main event. Nevertheless, Valladares was eager to have Mejia in his squad. "El Profe has always kept faith in me," explained the striker. "He always believed I had my place in the team, even when I was injured. The physio has also been a big help, and he did everything to make sure I'd be ready for the tournament. I even stayed at his house for a while so that I could recover as best as possible."
Lightning in his boots
Those efforts have paid off in spades. Mejia returned to the fold during Honduras's preparations in Spain, their final port of call before India, and he has started both their World Cup matches so far – a 6-1 opening loss to Japan before the 5-0 defeat of New Caledonia. "For the first few minutes, I was a little afraid when I started making runs," he admitted. "As time went by, I stopped thinking about the risk of injury. My team-mates have faith in me and they give me confidence."
High on confidence, Mejia is not just deadly in front of goal but seems to have lightning in his boots, as he proved with his double against New Caledonia at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati. And since he has learned the hard way that lightning can strike twice, Mejia will be keen for a repeat performance at the same venue this weekend, when Honduras vie for a spot in the last 16 against France. "It hasn't been easy after those injuries," he added, "but in the end those experiences will help me."
A life in football
- Carlos Mejia is the son of former professional footballer Ignacio Mejia
- His idols: Lionel Messi, Neymar and Philippe Coutinho
- Last year, he underwent trials with Manchester City and Bolton
"I don't know what happened exactly, but I had to return to Honduras. It wasn't easy because I'd got myself used to the idea of staying. I hope I'll be able to go back to Europe one day, and when that day comes I'll be ready and mentally prepared to stay and succeed."