Group G: Panama’s new kings channel spirit of Roberto Durán
Central American side have an experienced squad but this is their maiden World Cup
Roman Torres takes a picture with Panama fans after his side secured World Cup qualification. Photograph: Rodrigo Arangua/AFP/Getty
Who are they?
For years Panama’s most famous sporting son has been the great Roberto Duran, but now one of boxing’s Four Kings has a bit of competition for centre stage in the hearts of the Central American nation. Panama are going to the World Cup for the first time, and it means an awful lot. Indeed, when they secured qualification president Juan Carlos Varela declared the following day a national holiday, with workers given the day off and school classes scrapped.
Panama’s squad is an experienced one – six of their likely starters have picked up more than 100 caps, including 36-year-old Dinamo Bucharest goalkeeper Jaime Penedo (130), 37-year-old defender and captain Felipe Baloy (101), 33-year-old midfielder Gabriel Gomez (142) and 37-year-old centre forward Blas Perez (116). However, this is their maiden World Cup, and they won’t have long to find their feet. Chances of progressing from Group G are nominal at best – a positive result against Tunisia perhaps their best hope.
World Cup moment
This is Panama’s first World Cup.
How did they get here?
In fairy-tale fashion - needing a win over already-qualified Costa Rica to make history, Panama were level approaching injury-time. Step forward centre half Roman Torres, who kept his cool to score an 88th-minute winner and send Panama City into a state of delirium. The goal meant Panama qualified from the Concacaf group at the expense of the USA – after they were beaten 2-1 by Trinidad and Tobago.
The Panama players might have no World Cup experience, but their manager does. Hernan Dario Gomez is heading to his third tournament as manager, after guiding Colombia to qualification in 1998, followed by taking Ecuador to their first World Cup in 2002.
The main man
Mighty Roman Torres is deified in Panama after his goal secured the nation’s place in Russia this summer. A big, uncompromising centre half, it was a moment of silk and calm which saw him score the crucial winner against Costa Rica. A 108-cap veteran, the Seattle Sounders defender won’t be affording the likes of Harry Kane too much respect.
The one to watch
In an aging squad, 21-year-old Ismael Diaz can provide some youthful verve. The winger only has 10 caps but has experience of playing in Europe with Porto B and now Deportivo La Coruna’s second time, Deportivo Fabril.
Qualification in itself was a brilliant achievement. If Panama can channel the spirit of Duran and bloody the nose of England or Belgium – a goal alone would be enough – then they will have exceeded expectations. Torres and co will then wait for Tunisia in the last round of Group G with no fear whatsoever.
Goalkeepers: Jaime Penedo (Dinamo Bucarest), Jose Calderon (Chorrillo), Alex Rodriguez (San Francisco).
Defenders: Felipe Baloy (Municipal), 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), Roman Torres (Seattle Sounders).
Midfielders: Edgar Barcenas (Cafetaleros de Tapachula), Armando Cooper (Universidad de Chile), Anibal Godoy (San Jose Earthquakes), Gabriel Gomez (Atletico Bucaramanga), Valentin Pimentel (Plaza Amador), Alberto Quintero (Universitario), Jose Luis Rodriguez (Ghent).
Strikers: Abdiel Arroyo (Alajuelense), Ismael Diaz (Deportivo La Coruna), Blas Pérez (Municipal), Luis Tejada (Sport Boys), Gabriel Torres (Huachipato).