Panama entered 2010 FIFA World Cup™ qualifying with high expectations. The Central Americans received a bye into the second stage of qualifying in the CONCACAF zone and there they took an early departure from the tournament at the hands of a resurgent El Salvador squad. Panama had beaten the Salvadorans in the first leg by a narrow 1-0 margin, but lost 3-1 in the second at the Estadio Cuscatlan. As a result, coach Alexandre Guimaraes was promptly given his marching orders by a country stunned at the loss.
However, the Panamanians enjoyed a better run in 2006 FIFA World Cup qualifying as they made it to the final ‘hexagonal’ round. Despite first drawing Guatemala and then pulling off a surprise 1-1 draw with Mexico after a brilliant Luis Tejada strike, The Panamanians did not book passage to Germany after those two points were all they could muster for a last-place finish in the six-team final round.
The current crop
Panama, having never qualified for a FIFA World Cup, gained notice for a strong performance in January’s Copa Centroamericana (Central America's cup of nations) - particularly for a strong defensive performance that saw just one goal get through in five games on a run to the semi-finals. That performance was merely prelude to bigger things still as the Canaleros beat the mighty USA in the group stages of the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup en route to a glorious run to the semi-finals of the tournament in which they finished runners-up in 1995.
The key players
Captaining the Panamanians is Felipe Baloy. Strong and burly, he is credited as one of the best defenders in the side and was crucial to Panama's 2005 Gold Cup second-place finish and their heroics in the same tournament’s latest instalment. In midfield, Armando Cooper brings fresh talent to the squad. Contrasting Cooper's lively youth and inexperience is veteran striker Luis Tejada, who is best known for scoring an equaliser against Mexico in the final round of 2006 FIFA World Cup qualifying and playing a crucial role in the famous win over USA in 2011's Gold Cup.
Current coach: Julio Dely Valdes
Best performance in a FIFA competition: None
Former stars: Luis Ernesto Tapia, Jorge Luis Dely Valdes, Julio Dely Valdes