Panama’s record at the FIFA U-20 World Cup is modest to say the least. In their three previous appearances, they have never survived the opening phase, nor managed a victory. That said, over the last decade they have consistently been among CONCACAF’s representatives at youth football’s showpiece event. Counting Colombia 2011, this is their fourth qualification in the last five attempts, underlining the rude health of age-category football in the country. Los Canaleros’ first appearance came at the FIFA U-20 World Cup UAE 2003, where they lost successive group games to the hosts, Slovakia and Burkina Faso. After reaching the two subsequent editions, they then missed out on Egypt 2009, before securing their berth at Colombia 2011 at April’s CONCACAF U-20 Championship.
Though yet to make their mark on the world stage, the FIFA U-20 World Cup Colombia 2011 will afford Panama the opportunity to show that they are continuing to make progress. Alfredo Poyatos’ side finished fourth at this year’s CONCACAF U-20 Championship after losing a penalty shootout 7-6 to hosts Guatemala following a 0-0 draw. Prior to that, Los Canaleros were on the wrong end of a 4-1 semi-final defeat to eventual champions Mexico. Despite losing three of their five games in Guatemala, the tournament was nonetheless a success for the Panamanians, who won their all-important quarter-final to book a place in Colombia.
Though not among the favourites to take top honours at Colombia 2011, Panama are an improving side and one that will be difficult to beat come July and August. After opening with a 2-0 reverse at the hands of USA in Guatemala, the central Americans showed their mettle by brushing aside Suriname 3-0 to reach the quarter-finals. There, with a place in Colombia at stake, Poyatos’ charges proved up to the task when seeing off Honduras 2-0. The team’s lofty ambitions were evident when the coach was interviewed at the conclusion of the tournament. “Our goal was not just to qualify for the World Cup in Colombia: we want to become champions at U-20 level,” he said.