Manager: Hernan Gomez
Group: Group G
Other teams in group: Belgium, England, Tunisia.
Panama do not unfortunately have many star-studded names that may perhaps see them pull off a shock or two this summer in Russia, but manager Hernan Gomez can certainly rely on some very gritty and determined players during this latest instalment of the World Cup.
There is plenty of MLS representation in Panama’s first ever World Cup Squad, with no less than six players plying their trade in North America’s premier footballing competition.
However, there will be plenty of emotion attached to this group of players representing “Los Canaleros” as they will head into this tournament without talismanic midfielder Amilcar Henriquez who was brutally murdered outside his home on the 15th of April 2017 as Panama began their journey to the World Cup finals in the CONCACAF Qualification series.
The Squad in full
Goalkeepers: Jaime Penedo (Dinamo Bucharest), Jose Calderon (Chorrillo FC), Alex Rodriguez (San Francisco FC).
Defenders: Michael Murillo (New York Red Bulls), Harold Cummings (San Jose Earthquakes), Fidel Escobar (New York Red Bulls), Roman Torres (Seattle Sounders FC), Adolfo Machado (Houston Dynamo), Eric Davis (DAC Dunajska Streda), Luis Ovalle (CD Olimpia), Felipe Baloy (CSD Municipal).
Midfielders: Gabriel Gomez (Atletico Bucaramanga), Edgar Barcenas (Cafetaleros de Tapachula), Armando Cooper (Club Universidad de Chile), Valentin Pimentel (Plaza Amador), Alberto Quintero (Universitario Lima), Anibal Godoy (San Jose Earthquakes), Jose Luis Rodriguez (KAA Gent).
Forwards: Blas Perez (CSD Municipal), Gabriel Torres (CD Huachipato), Ismael Diaz (Deportivo La Coruña), Abdiel Arroyo (LD Alajuelense), Luis Tejada (Sport Boys).
HOW THEY GOT THERE
After tragically losing their talismanic figurehead Amilcar Henriquez in April 2017, Panama miraculously found their way into the 2018 World Cup at the expense of near neighbours USA in a dramatic finale of the CONCACAF qualifiers.
With time running out of their final qualifier at home to already qualified Costa Rica, and with the USA a goal down against Trinidad and Tobago. Up stepped defender Roman Torres who scored a late, late winner to send the “Los Canaleros” faithful into raptures as they secured their first ever appearance at a World Cup in dramatic circumstances.
It was a highly competitive qualification group as Panama took advantage of some glaring slip ups by the USA while Hernan Gomez’s side stayed well in the hunt with some spirited showings against the so-called superior sides while also taking care of the weaker sides with minimal fuss.
It was a rollercoaster qualification process for Panama who defied all the odds to claw themselves over the line to qualify for international football’s most prestigious competition this summer in Russia.
KEY PLAYERS TO WATCH OUT FOR
“Matador”, as he is affectionately referred to as throughout Panama, is one of the main leaders of this Los Canaleros side as they prepare themselves for their inaugural bow at the FIFA World Cup in Russia this summer. Tejada plays his club football for Sport Boys in Peru where the experienced hitman has scored four goals in his opening three games for the Peruvian outfit. Known for his perseverance and graft, Tejada made his international debut in 2001 and he has now made 105 appearances for his nation. It is expected that this very may well be Tejada’s international swansong and the 36-year-old will undoubtedly be looking to make it count.
Michael Amir Murillo
Still relatively young in international terms, Amir Murillo, 22, will, along with many other international teammates, be hoping to impress many potential suitors during the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Russia. With only 22 international caps to his name, the New York Red Bulls youngster has taken to his responsibility at the heart of the Panama defence with some striking displays of maturity and courage despite his tender years. It is expected that New York Red Bull’s defensive starlet will operate as either a right-full back or at centre-back this summer.
After 102 international caps and three rare goals for his country, the now 37-year-old Felipe Baloy has finally been granted the opportunity to represent his country on the grandest stage of all in Russia this summer. Baloy is certainly no stranger to a physical confrontation as Romelu Lukaku and Harry Kane will soon find out in Group G. While also being a physical, domineering presence in the Panamanian defence, Baloy has garnered a reputation of calling out the media before and we may see this during the upcoming World Cup in Russia over the next few weeks.
WHERE ARE THEY PLAYING AND STAYING (Kick-Offs are at Irish Time)
June 18th - Belgium vs Panama, Sochi, 4pm
June 24th - England vs Panama, Nizhny Novgorod, 1pm
June 28th - Panama vs Tunisia, Saransk, 7pm
Base Camp: Saransk
THREE INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT THEM
Despite many dismissing Panama’s hopes entirely, they may have already confounded their critics so far as they look set to head into this 2018 World Cup in Russia not the lowest ranked side in the tournament. That rather uninspiring tag will go to Russia who lie in 66th place, eleven places behind Panama who are in the 55th placed spot.
Hernan Gomez’s side only have three players plying their trade in Europe which will mean that a large European audience will be quite unfamiliar with a whole host of Panamanian players during the World Cup. The three are Jaime Penedo who plays for Dinamo Bucharest, Eric Davis who plays for Slovakian side DAC Dunajska Streda and Gent youngster Jose Luis Rodriguez who is viewed upon as Panama’s wildcard pick.
Barring any late injury for Hernan Gomez’s side, they will be the oldest side at the World Cup this summer with an average age of 29.4 years, only .4 yrs. older than Iceland who are the second oldest side at 29 years of age. Nigeria look set to be the youngest side with an average age of only 24.9 years.
THEIR RECENT FORM
Panama have only won one of their last six friendlies in recent months since their qualification to the World Cup finals in Russia. That win came against Caribbean rivals Trinidad and Tobago back in April. Los Canaleros have also drawn two of their previous six, against both Northern Ireland and Wales in dour 0-0 and 1-1 draws respectively.
First game: Belgium (June 18th, 4pm).