World Cup 2018 is knocking the doors and the 32 participating nations are now highly enthusiastic and fully focused upon completion of club football. They are proud to represent their countries in such a prestigious event, but the story of Panama has to be the most motivating one.
A country with just over 40 lakhs population surprised the football world when a late winner from skipper Roman Torres versus heavyweights Costa Rica sealed their maiden World Cup berth in nation’s history. They have little expectations to make it to the Round of 16, but the gallant efforts they made to achieve such an elite status must be jotted down in Panama’s history.
Coach: Hernan Dario Gomez
Captain: Roman Torres
Nickname(s): Los Canaleros (The Canal Men)
Last Qualified: NA
Result in 2014: Did not Qualify
Qualified From: CONCACAF
World Cup Appearances: First appearance
Best World Cup Finals Result: Group Stage (2018)
The Final Squad
GOALKEEPERS: Jose Calderon (Chorrillo), Jaime Penedo (Dinamo Bucharest), Alex Rodriguez (San Francisco).
DEFENDERS: Felipe Baloy (Municipal CSD), Harold Cummings (San Jose Earthquakes), Erick Davis (Dunajska Streda), Fidel Escobar, Michael Murillo, Adolfo Machado, Luis Ovalle, Roman Torres (Seattle Sounders).
MIDFIELDERS: Jose Luis Rodriguez (Gent), Edgar Barcenas (Cafetaleros de Tapachula), Armando Cooper (Universidad de Chile), Anibal Godoy (San Jose Earthquakes), Gabriel Gomez (Bucaramanga), Valentin Pimentel (Plaza Amador), Alberto Quintero (Universitario).
FORWARDS: Abdiel Arroyo (Alajuelense), Ismael Diaz (Deportivo La Coruna), Blas Perez (Municipal), Luis Tejada (Sports Boys), Gabriel Torres (CD Huachipato).
Majority of their men are above 30 but built up a great chemistry among themselves for playing together for years. They do not have any renowned name but are blessed with some national heroes whose heroics earned them a place in Russia defying the odds.
1) Roman Torres
The captain led his nation from the front when his winner against Costa Rica with three minutes remaining guided them to seal a World Cup berth. The Seattle Sounders defender has represented his nation 110 times and his experience will be a key to continue the dream run.
2) Anibal Godoy
The 28-year-old San Jose Earthquakes midfield star is one of their youngest players on the pitch who is representing his nation at a senior level since 2010 and will have to maintain his composure in the middle of the park alongside fellow veterans.
3) Blas Perez
The 37-year-old striker has netted 43 goals for his nation and netted some crucial goals during the qualifiers. It is to be seen who is preferred between him and Luis Tejada, but the veteran Panamanian will have a major role to play on and off the pitch as one of their most senior individuals.
However, the sad demise of Amílcar Henríquez in a robbery incident last year has been a huge loss for the national team. He represented his nation 85 times and was going to be an integral part of Hernan Dario Gomez’s World Cup squad.
Panama have not shown the same resilience since their heroics in the decisive qualifier outing versus Costa Rica and lost to Denmark (1-0) and Switzerland (6-0) in back to back friendlies. They grabbed a marginal victory over Trinidad & Tobago back in April but were held to a scoreless draw by Northern Ireland later last month. They, meanwhile, encountered Norway last night in their ultimate warm-up fixture before entering the main event but suffered yet another defeat despite some encouraging efforts.
Panama were drawn in Group G alongside England, Belgium, and Tunisia. They will play Belgium in their opening match on 18th of June, followed by England and Tunisia on 24nd and 28th June respectively.
Making it to the World Cup finals is itself a huge achievement for a nation of Panama’s stature who have plenty of limitations yet fought their heart out. They should be an inspiration to lower-ranked outfits irrespective of their progress in the World Cup.
Few CONCACAF nations have experienced the type of rise that Panama has during the last 12 years. Dubbed Los Canaleros as the host nation of the canal that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, Panama went on a Cinderella run to the 2005 CONCACAF Gold Cup Final where they fell 3-1 on penalty kicks to a Bruce Arena-led U.S. side. [Soure: U.S. Soccer]