No sooner had Blatter and his travelling companions arrived in Panama City than they were whisked off to the Estadio Rommel Fernandez, where they watched the second semi-final of the CONCACAF U-17 Championship between the tournament hosts and Canada.
Joined by CONCACAF President Jeffrey Webb and FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke, Blatter looked on as the young Canaleros won 2-1 to book a place in the final against Mexico, who had earlier beaten Honduras 3-1. All four semi-finalists will go forward to represent the region at the FIFA U-17 World Cup United Arab Emirates 2013.
This is the second time in succession that Panama have reached the world finals at this age level, following their appearance at Colombia 2011, an achievement that did not go unnoticed by Blatter.
“The recent and ongoing success of the country’s youth teams has a lot to do with the development work that the Panamanian Football Association (FEPAFUT) has been doing,” said Blatter after the match. “There is no question they are on the right track.”
Blatter also pointed to the fine form of Panama’s full national team. Coached by legendary striker Julio Dely Valdes, Los Canaleros lead the final six-team group in the CONCACAF qualifying competition for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ and have rarely been in a better position to fulfil their dream of reaching the world finals for the first time.
New HQ opened
Blatter’s busy agenda continued on Thursday morning when he attended the opening of the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) Congress.
Stressing the valuable part the CFU plays in the region, the FIFA President said: “It was not long after I started working at FIFA that the CFU, which has just celebrated its 35th anniversary, came into existence. Together we have followed a path of development, one on which we must continue. We are facing a new era in the CONCACAF region and the CFU occupies a vital role in what lies ahead.”
The delegation then moved on to FEPAFUT’s newly built headquarters, which were constructed with the support of FIFA’s Goal Projects II and III.
Suitably impressed by the result of the projects, Blatter said: “It is a great day for the organisation to be able to attend the opening of Panama’s football HQ. When we started the Goal projects in 1999 with a view to developing the game, the first objective was to ensure that national associations had their own home. That is why it is such a great honour to be here. I would like to congratulate the Panamanian FA and the government on their support of football, and I wish them every success.”
FEPAFUT President Pedro Chaluja Arauz then expressed his delight at the FIFA delegation’s visit: “I am proud to have such distinguished visitors here at the opening of our home and at such a vital time in the development of our football.
“We must give FIFA our thanks for the Goal funding and also to the government for making land available for the construction project. This is a crucial step forward in the growth of Panamanian football and comes hand in hand with the objective of strengthening the national league and the country’s national teams at all age levels.”
Blatter will press on with his busy schedule in Panama early on Friday morning, when he will attend the opening of the XXVIII CONCACAF Ordinary Congress. He will wrap up his tour of the country by watching the final of the regional U-17 championships in the evening.