Like all three million of his compatriots Panama forward Yairo Glaize Yau has a burning and intense ambition; qualification for a first-ever FIFA World Cup™. The fleet-footed attacker - sometimes known as Yairo Yau or Yairo Glaize - talks in almost reverential tones about the very notion of the Central American nation appearing on the world stage for the first time, such is the sense of awe surrounding such an achievement.
Under the direction of Panama’s most famed footballer – Julio Dely Valdes - Los Canaleros have improved markedly in the past decade and now are closer than ever before to a maiden World Cup qualification appearance.
Their hopes, however, suffered a major blow on Friday when an eleventh hour winner saw Mexico claim three potentially pivotal points at Panama’s expense.
Panama City’s Estadio Rommel Fernandez will be filled to the brim on Tuesday where the home side must defeat USA at home, and hope Mexico fail to collect any points in Costa Rica, if they are to reach the intercontinental play-off against Oceania winners New Zealand.
Drawing inspiration from a legend
Yau, as one of the younger members of the squad, faces a tough battle for selection in the forward line alongside some of the greats of the modern Panamanian game, including Blas Perez and Luis Tejada. But it is through the leader of the Panama team – coach Dely Valdes – where Yau, and his team-mates draw much of their inspiration. Asked who is childhood hero was and “Dely Valdes” is Yau’s unequivocal answer.
“He was a pioneer for Panama playing in Italy, France and Spain,” the jet-heeled Yau told FIFA.com. “For me it is a real pleasure to be trained by someone who was always been my idol. I think being coached by such an icon gives the players a lot more confidence and security, and in a way helps us achieve better results as a team.”
I have dreamed of such a thing a million times in my life.
Yau plies his trade in Australia’s A-League where he features in the Sydney FC attack alongside another football icon; 2006 World Cup-winner Alessandro Del Piero. And Yau says life in Australia’s harbour city is agreeable both on and off the field.
“I’m very happy and very comfortable living in Sydney," he said. “People in Australia are relaxed and I also have more time for my family. The support from the club is excellent, and a lot of players here have been helpful too.
“The football in Australia is a lot quicker and there is more possession football. In Panama football can be more physical, and so I enjoy the game more in Australia.”
Realising a dream
For now though the only focus is achieving breakthrough qualification for the World Cup. “We are a lot more confident than we have been before,” Yau said prior to the final round of qualifiers, in reference to Panama’s growing continental status. “We have a good team, with good players. Our dream is to get Panama to the World Cup for the first time.
“The whole country is very united because that dream has been coming closer. To make history and be a member of the team that reaches the World Cup for the first time would be just amazing.
“Every time I walk onto the pitch for the national team, I think of what it would be like to hear the crowd, hear our national anthem and play in the World Cup for Panama. I have dreamed of such a thing a million times in my life.”