Gabriel Torres has taken over as Panama’s attacking spearhead
His country’s third-highest all-time goalscorer
Setting his sights on next opponents Dominican Republic
Gabriel Torres has been Panama’s main goal threat for some time now.
When Blas Perez and Luis Tejada ended their international careers, both tied on 43 goals as Los Canaleros’ all-time leading scorers, it was only natural that Torres should step into the void and lead the line for Panama.
“It’s a great honour for me to take on this responsibility,” said Torres in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. The striker, who in 2005 became his country’s youngest ever international at the age of only 16, added: “I’m very proud to have the job of being Panama’s main goalscorer. We took a big step forward yesterday and we were part of that.”
Torres was referring to Panama’s thumping 13-0 defeat of Anguilla on Saturday 5 June, their penultimate game in Group D of the first round of the Concacaf qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™. The biggest win in Panama’s history, the result allowed Los Canaleros to move out front in the section, two points ahead of Dominican Republic, who were held to a draw by Barbados on the same day.
Reflecting on his side’s big win and their impressive progress so far in the qualifiers, Torres said: “We’re delighted because we’ve taken an important step towards our goal, though we know that we’ve still got a very tough match coming up on Tuesday and we want to approach it as such."
Torres scored four of the goals against the Anguillans, becoming the first Panama player to achieve the feat in a World Cup qualifier. In the process, he moved past Julio Dely Valdes as the national team’s third most prolific goalscorer in history.
“I’m obviously very happy, though I also have to say that it’s all down to the hard work of my team-mates on the pitch. That’s what helps us forwards get the goals.”
Torres and Co are now ready to entertain Dominican Republic in their final game in the section. A draw would be enough to take them through to the second round of the preliminaries, though the free-scoring front man is taking nothing for granted.
“I think the unity we’ve got in the dressing room, the intensity with which we play, and the fluidity of our game are all going to be vital if we want to beat Dominican Republic."
Panama’s all-time leading goalscorers
Blas Perez: 43
Luis Tejada: 43
Gabriel Torres: 22
Julio Dely Valdes: 19
James Santiago Anderson: 18*
*JS Anderson scored the first two international goals in Panama’s history, at the Central American and Caribbean Games in 1938.
Panama made their FIFA World Cup debut at Russia 2018. “It was wonderful to see how much the country enjoyed our first World Cup,” recalled Torres, reflecting on that experience. “It felt amazing to make the Panamanian people so happy. We’ve got our sights set now on reaching the final eight-team round and going on that emotional rollercoaster ride again."
Torres has another reason to look back on those times fondly. Just before the end of the Russia 2018 qualifiers, his wife was taken ill and fell into a coma, even losing her memory temporarily. In what were worrying times for him and his family, Torres promised that he would take her to Russia. Happily, she got back on her feet and was able to make the trip.
“Thanks to God I was able to fulfil my promise to my wife,” explained Torres. “She ended up being at the World Cup with me and it was a special moment that I hope we can experience again. This time I want my wife and my children to come and enjoy it.”
Life is good for Torres at the moment. He is scoring goals, his family are all in good health, and he is determined to give the fans something to smile about after so many months of suffering during the pandemic.
“I know the country has been through some very tough times. It’s been nearly a year and half since the fans last saw the national team. Some of them were able to go on Saturday. I hope a lot more of them can go on Tuesday and that we can give them something to cheer about, because they’ve gone so long without seeing us.
"My family is my biggest source of motivation, without doubt: my children, my wife, my mother, my brothers and my father. They support me the whole time. I always try my heart out for them because they’re the ones who are there for me when times get tough and who help me to pull through.”