A footballing nation on the rise, Panama is no longer just known for its canal and a sporting penchant for baseball. With more investment in the beautiful game and an increasingly impressive infrastructure, Panama is becoming football mad with the best of them and producing a golden generation of talent. Canada 2007 will be the country's third consecutive (and third overall) trip to the youth showpiece event. And led by arguably the country's greatest ever player in head coach Julio Dely Valdes, the Canaleros will be keen to make this summer's outing their best yet. In truth, earning a point would do the trick as they have finished their last two world youth finals with zero points to show for their efforts.
As hosts of CONCACAF Group A qualifying, the Panamanians hit the ground running, knowing they would have to rack up some fast points with up-and-coming Guatemala and superpowers the United States to contend with. Up first for the red-clad hosts was Guatemala - led by coach Rodrigo Kenton and expecting much. After going down to a horrific own goal from Luis Ovalle, the hosts dug deep and earned a credible point (1-1) thanks to a goal from Nelson Barahona. In their next match with a rapidly improving Haitian outfit, the Panamanians showed their grit and ground out a 3-2 result thanks in large part to a two-goal day from Josue Jafeth Brown. Their 5-0 loss to the States in their final match mattered little as both sides had qualified for Canada before a ball had been kicked - due to Guatemala's loss of composure and 2-0 defeat to Haiti in their final match earlier in the day.
Julio Dely Valdes is a name that ranks in Panama up along Roberto Duran and Manuel Noriega for its recognisable nature. One of only a handful of Panamanian players to go abroad, Julio - twin brother of Jorge - hit out for well-known shores as a player and is considered widely to be the nation's best-ever footballer. Beginning his professional playing career in Argentina with Deportivo Paraguayo, he moved on to Uruguay and Nacional before setting sail for Europe, where he had stints in Italy with Cagliari, France with PSG and Spain with Real Oviedo and Malaga. In a latest moment of glory, Julio and his brother brought Panama to within seconds of winning a CONCACAF Gold Cup. Losing out on penalties to the wildly favoured host Americans in 2005, Panama's improvement in reaching their first regional final was on display for all to see. Canada 2007 will be Julio's first major global tournament as a coach, but his playing experience and knowledge of the game are sure to keep him in good stead.
Josue Jafeth Brown of domestic club side Atletico Veraguense is a speedy and imaginative striker with physical strength and a killer nose for goal. He was crucial in the Central Americans' run to Canada 2007 with a pair of well-taken goals, including in the winner, in the qualifying win over Haiti (3-2). He also started all three qualifying matches in Panama in January of 2007. After a 0-5 loss to the Americans in their final contest, it was ultimately his attacking orchestrations that booked Panama their pace at a third consecutive FIFA U-20 finals. In Canada, it may well come down to the forward to get the Canaleros their first point at a youth showpiece. Surely the 19 year old will be up to the task. - and maybe gunning for more
|15||Javier DE LA ROSA|
|DELY VALDES Julio|