• Amilcar Henriquez was murdered in April 2017
  • Team-mates lamented the loss of a great player and person
  • His memory will serve as inspiration when they visit Mexico

On 15 April 2017, Canalero international Amilcar Henriquez was gunned down at the door to his house. News of the 33-year-old defensive midfielder’s death stunned the country and plunged the national team into mourning.

One of the most carefree characters in the Marea Roja dressing room, Henriquez was also a mainstay of the side.

Nearly six months on from his untimely death, his Panama team-mates are drawing on the example he set and his memory as inspiration for their vital 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifier in Mexico on Friday.

A true competitor and team-mate
“He got on well with everyone,” recalled Abdiel Arroyo, a former colleague of his at Panamanian club Arabe Unido. “We all loved him because he was down to earth and always smiling. And on the pitch he was a leader, a player who set the tone and never stopped fighting.”

Midfielder Armando Cooper, one of the Panama players closest to Henriquez, echoed those words: “I started out with him right by my side and he always gave me his support. He wasn’t so much a friend as a brother to me. Losing him was very painful. I loved him so much that I still can’t come to terms with it.”

Like the rest of the Panama players, Henriquez’s former room-mate Gabriel Gomez remembers exactly where he was when he heard the dreadful news.” I was playing in Colombia, against Santa Fe, and one of their players, Omar Perez, came up and told me," said the Bucaramanga man, whose family had struck up a close bond with Henriquez and his wife and children.

“I thought he was trying to put me off my game, but when he said it to me again I realised he was being serious. I went to the dressing room and found out what had happened. My wife confirmed the news a bit later. I still can’t believe it.”

A vow is made
Panama lie fourth on seven points in the final six-team group in the CONCACAF, with Mexico out in front on 14. Victory at the imposing Estadio Azteca would thus give Los Canaleros a massive boost in their bid to reach Russia 2018.

As Eric Davis explained, the Panama players will be taking inspiration from the combative midfielder when they run out against the Mexicans. “It’s an extra source of motivation for us,” said the left-back, who described Henriquez as a role model. “If he were here, he’d give 100 per cent – make no mistake. We need him. He was a great player. We have to do it for him because we know how much he wanted to go to the World Cup.”

Pinpointing what Panama need to do to keep that dream alive, Arroyo said: “Win in Mexico. We’re very committed and we know he’s watching us from up above. There could be no better tribute than getting these three points, for him, for us and for the whole country.”