World Cup Preview – Panama (26/32)
Best World Cup Performance: TOURNAMENT DEBUT
Current ranking: 55
This will be Panama’s first World Cup having previously narrowly missed out on qualifying for the 2014 tournament. Their footballing history is brief relative to most countries, having played their first match against Venezuela in 1938. Prior to this World Cup they had failed to qualify for 9 consecutive tournaments and for much of qualification it appeared the same might happen again this occasion.
In the CONCACAF Championship & Gold Cup they have twice finished as runners up in 2005 and 2013.
Goalkeepers: Jose Calderon (Chorrillo), Jaime Penedo (Dinamo Bucharest), Alex Rodriguez (San Francisco).
Defenders: Azmahar Ariano (Patriots), Felipe Baloy (Municipal CSD), Harold Cummings (San Jose Earthquakes), Eric Davis (Dunajska Streda), Fidel Escobar (New York Red Bulls), Adolfo Machado (Houston Dynamo), Michael Murillo (New York Red Bulls), Luis Ovalle (Olimpia), Francisco Palacios (San Francisco), Richard Peralta (Alliance), Roman Torres (Seattle Sounders).
Midfielders: Ricardo Avila (Gent), Edgar Barcenas (Cafetaleros de Tapachula), Ricardo Buitrago (Municipal), Miguel Camargo (Universidad San Martin), Adalberto Carrasquilla (Tauro), Armando Cooper (Universidad de Chile), Anibal Godoy (San Jose Earthquakes), Gabriel Gomez (Bucaramanga), Jose Gonzalez (Union Comercio), Cristian Martinez (Columbus Crew), Valentin Pimentel (Plaza Amador), Alberto Quintero (Universitario), Jose Luis Rodriguez (Gent).
Strikers: Abdiel Arroyo (Alajuelense), Rolando Blackburn (Chorrillo), Ismael Diaz (Deportivo La Coruna), Jose Fajardo (Independiente), Roberto Nurse (Mineros Zacatecas), Blas Perez (Municipal), Luis Tejada (Sports Boys), Gabriel Torres (CD Huachipato).
- Vs Belgium 16:00, 18.06.18 Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi
- Vs England 13:00, 24.06.18 Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Nizhny Novgorod
- Vs Tunisia 19:00, 28.06.18 Mordovia Arena, Mordovia
Manager: Hernan Dario Gomez
Hernan Dario Gomez a former Columbian footballer and has been in charge of the Panama national side since 2014. Despite failing to qualify for that summer’s world cup he was named CONCACAF coach of the year for 2015.
His preferred formation is 4-4-2 and much like his personality, his teams play with a combative edge. This Panama side will be no exception, as they seek to silence the doubters in their debut World Cup.
Gomez has been to two previous World Cup’s with his native Columbia in 1998 and Ecuador in 2002. Both times he has failed to progress beyond the group and it’s an unwanted record he will not wish to increase.
Panama dramatically finished third in qualifying to pinch a spot at the tournament from the USA. During qualification they started brightly but a lost to Trinidad and Tobago made going to Russia rather unlikely.
To add to this, shortly after midfielder Amilcar Genriguez was shot and killed in a coordinated ‘hit’, despite mourning his loss the team vowed to qualify in a tribute to his memory.
This was made possible when centre back Roman Torres latched onto a flicked header on 88 minutes against Costa Rica and without breaking stride, hammered a shot past Keylor Navas to put Panama 2-1 up. A surprise loss by the USA to bottom side Trinidad and Tobago meant that Panama would go to their first world cup and President Juan Carlos Varela declared the following day a national holiday.
Captain: Roman Torres
Panama’s captain is the man whose late winner against Costa Rica took his side to Russia, securing his hero like status in his home country. He was also Panama’s top scorer in qualifying with two goals.
Torres plays as a centre back for MLS side Seattle Sounders and has done since 2015. A year after his arrival, Sounders made it to the MLS Cup final, where they played Toronto FC, who boasted former Juventus player Sebastian Giovinco. After a goalless draw in extra time, Torres stepped up to slot home the final penalty and give Seattle their first MLS Cup victory.
Danger Man: Luis Tejada
To label Luis Tejada a journeyman would be an understatement, in a 17 year professional career he’s played for 19 different clubs and with varying degrees of success. Contrary to this, for the national side he’s remained remarkably consistent, scoring a joint record 43 goals in 104 appearances. It’s for this reason he must be considered their danger man, as goals are scarce throughout the squad. He will relish the chance to play in his first World Cup and at 36 it will certainly be his last.
Young Player: Michael Amir Murillo
At 22 Murillo has already represented his country 21 times and has formed a stable foundation to Panama’s backline. During those appearances he impressed New York Red Bulls enough for them to sign him, initially on loan. After a promising loan spell, Red Bull’s decided to sign him permanently and he rewarded them with stabilizing performances from the heart of defence. As New York made it to their first ever CONCACAF Champions League semi-final, Murillo proved so instrumental he was named in the competitions Best XI.
With plenty of time to develop, don’t be surprised to see a European club take a punt on him in the future.
Premier League Players: None.
Panama will do well to get any points from the group, Tunisia remains their best opportunity.
Written by Harvey Sayer.