- Panama lie third in the 'Hexagonal' with four points.
- Next match: at home to USA on Tuesday 28 March.
Defeats do not come much more painful than the one Panama suffered against USA in their final match of the CONCACAF qualifying campaign for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. Los Canaleros were two minutes away from securing a place at the world finals when two late goals shattered their dreams. One man who saw it all unfold first-hand was Panama defensive midfielder Amilcar Henriquez.
“It still makes me very sad to think about it,” said the 33-year-old. “There are always going to be games that leave a mark on you, and I think that was one of those days. We had the chance to go to a World Cup and it slipped through our fingers, just like that.”
Wounds heal, however, and Panama have fresh hopes of reaching the World Cup for the first time in their history. “These things happen and it’s in the past now,” said Henriquez, looking forward. “We’ve picked ourselves up again and we’re back fighting for a dream that vanished before our eyes a few years back.”
Los Canaleros have made a good start to the 'Hexagonal', the final six-team qualifying round in the CONCACAF zone, from which three teams will qualify directly for Russia 2018 and a fourth will go forward to an intercontinental play-off versus a team from Asia.
“The good start we’ve made shows that we’ve been doing things right, that the coaching staff have brought through a new group of players and have given them a lot of support,” said Henriquez. “We’ve got some very tough games coming up, but things will work out for us if we stick together and focus on what we want and what we’re working towards.”
Panama’s next match just happens to be against the Stars and Stripes. “I don’t see it as a revenge match,” said the holding midfielder. “When you lose a match, you try and make up for it in the next. You just have to keep on going. We have to go out to win and we can’t think about what happened a few years ago. If we do, then we’ll be making a mistake and we’ll lose focus.
“We’re going to take things one day at a time. The USA are one of the powerhouses in the zone, and we have to be relaxed and focused because they can pounce on any mistake you make. There’s also the fact that qualification always comes down to what you do in your home games.”
Describing himself as a battler, who always gives his all for his team, the experienced Henriquez has only one goal in mind at this moment in time: reaching the World Cup, a dream every player shares.
“This is the last chance for this generation to bring a golden end to an era in which we have fought so hard. We’ve given it everything,” he said. “Going to the World Cup is the biggest dream there is and we all want it.”
So what do Panama need to do to make it happen? “We have to work hard, be dedicated every single day and get things right,” Henriquez said. “Sometimes, it’s more than just about playing the game. You have to be a good father, a good friend and a good son too. All those things are essential to going out and performing on the pitch.”