Deep into the closing minutes of Mexico’s clash with Group A rivals Panama on 8 July in the CONCACAF Gold Cup 2013, El Tri’s Marco Fabian de la Mora sent a dangerous ball into the centre of the Panamanian box looking for a team-mate to latch onto the cross and level the scores at 2-2.
Fortunately for everyone involved with Los Canaleros, whose substitutes and coaching staff had all been on their feet, arms linked, waiting desperately for the final whistle, the chance came and went and Panama held on for their first ever win over Los Aztecas.
“It’s not every day you score twice against Mexico,” said a clearly thrilled Gabriel Torres, the man whose double secured the historic triumph, when speaking exclusively to FIFA.com. “It really meant a lot to the whole squad. We know that we’ve come here with a very young squad, but we’re determined to do things properly. Once the game came around, we knew that we were ready for big things.”
And, over and above the symbolic nature of Monday’s win, the three points handed Panama the ideal start to the North, Central America and Caribbean Zone’s showpiece event. “This win has come about right at the start [of the competition], which should help our confidence and belief ahead of our upcoming matches,” said the 24-year-old forward.
Youth and experience
In addition to playing a pivotal role in a feat that will go down in the annals of Panamanian football history, El Fantasmita Torres can also point to – as a callow 16-year-old – having been his country’s youngest ever senior international.
“Being in the national squad so young and finding myself alongside players I was used to watching on TV was a special moment for me,” he recalled. “I was so proud to be able to share a dressing room with players I’d always admired.”
Fresh from his exploits against Mexico, Torres continued his rich vein of form by notching the only goal of the game, late on from the penalty spot, in Panama’s second group encounter versus Martinique. The result ensured Los Canaleros’ progress to the knockout stages of the continental showpiece, but Torres is keen not to rest on his laurels.
“I’m just hoping to keep doing my bit for the team,” said the striker, who plies his club trade with Zamora in Venezuela. “Of course scoring goals is going to give me a boost but I’ve got to put them behind me now. I need to focus on one game at a time and keep giving my all out on the pitch.”
However, such a fast start to the CONCACAF Gold Cup has given Panama license to dream of lifting the trophy for the first time. Under the guidance of coach Julio Cesar Dely Valdes, hard graft, humility and teamwork are the hallmarks of a squad attempting to become CONCACAF kings.
“We’re just going step by step,” insisted Panama’s man of the moment, as the conversation concluded. “Whether we start thinking about becoming champions or not will depend on how things progress. We’ll be taking every game seriously.”