“At first, I didn't realise it had gone in. I just shot as hard as I could. But when the ball hit the net, I just sprinted away and screamed ‘Goal!’" These were the words of Jorman Aguilar, reliving the moment he wrote his name into Panamanian footballing history.
His golden goal for Panama against Burkina Faso in the first group fixture at the FIFA U–17 World Cup Mexico 2011 earned his country their first-ever victory on the world stage at this level. “The feeling is amazing, and I'm really excited. The team and my family are happy too," the player continued. His relatives and friends watched the match together and have been celebrating at home ever since. “I promised them I'd score, and I've done it already. It's a dream come true."
Ronaldo a role model
The historic triumph did not spark anything like the same level of jubilation at the team's camp in Queretaro, the venue for the match. The squad took dinner together and went straight to bed, although the players naturally kept re-running the game over and over in their heads after retiring to their rooms.
The Central Americans are now setting their sights higher than before. “We want to go on and win the group with two more wins. That's our target," Aguilera confidently declared. Naturally, forthcoming opponents Germany and Ecuador represent a stiff challenge, as both boast genuine strength in depth. “But we can win, if we do what our coach tells us," the goalscorer stated. And despite beating reigning African champions Burkina Faso, Aguilar believes Panama can perform even better.
The 16-year-old certainly does not lack self-assurance and confidence. He names his role model as no less a figure than former FIFA World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo. “He's quick, and I like the way he moves around the field." In order to pick up the best of his idol’s skills, he regularly watches video of the Real Madrid superstar. “Then I go out and try to copy his tricks," he revealed. “My team-mates even call me the Cristiano Ronaldo of Panama." Predictably, Aguilar names the men from the Spanish capital as his favourite club.
His dream of joining the Madrid giants remains the stuff of fantasy, but taking part at a FIFA World Cup means he has already fulfilled one of his greatest desires, “and all the rest will follow."
Panama on the up
Football in general is making rapid progress in Panama. Since 2005, when the diminutive nation battled to the runners-up spot at the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the men's senior team has never been out of the top 100 in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, and currently occupies 67th position.
The U–20 team appeared at all three FIFA World Cup tournaments for this age group between 2003 and 2007. “The game is growing all the time in Panama, on the one hand because those playing youth football are supported from an early age, and on the other hand because kids are more and more interested in the game. We're picking up lots of experience, and that's why we're getting better."
If the junior national team can continue to make headlines at the FIFA U–17 World Cup 2011, interest in the game back home can only continue to grow. The latest chapter in the history of Panamanian football could yet be a highly successful one.