- Panama finished third in CONCACAF's Hex to reach first World Cup
- Roman Torres scored vital late winner against Costa Rica
- *Collective team effort vital to qualification *
Before the final matchday of CONCACAF’s qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, Panama had never even occupied one of the direct qualifying berths. In order to do so in the final round of games, they needed to beat Costa Rica at home and hope Trinidad & Tobago could do likewise against USA.
And that is precisely what happened. Despite going behind to Costa Rica, Los Canaleros stayed patient and fought back. The winner, secured just two minutes from time by Roman Torres, made history for Panamanian football, with USA losing at the same time in Couva.
It would be hard, however, to single out heroes now the campaign has concluded. Their success has rather been built on the collective efforts of a group of players who believed in their dream and fought tooth and nail to realise it. Throughout a rollercoaster campaign, the team never stopped battling.
*The road to Russia 2018 *
Panama began their campaign in Round 4 of the regional qualifiers. Drawn in Group B with Costa Rica, Haiti and Jamaica, they finished second behind Los Ticos on 10 points.
They then kicked off the Hexagonal final phase with a priceless away win over Honduras, only to then go six games without a victory – albeit picking up four draws. In the final two months of the campaign, Hernan Dario Gomez’s side secured their passage to Russia thanks to a draw with Honduras combined with home wins over Trinidad & Tobago and Costa Rica.
The spine of the team
- Jaime Penedo: With more than 100 caps for his country, the 35-year-old goalkeeper drew on his vast experience and showed nerves of steel when it mattered most.
- Felipe Baloy: A versatile defender who can make his presence felt up front but rarely leaves spaces at the back. He is also a fine header of the ball with the kind of contagious energy and encouraging nature that has seen him captain his side on many occasions.
- Gabriel Gomez: A midfield orchestrator who can put his foot on the ball and find precious time. He is also a tireless worker with a gift for winning back possession, and frequently sets attacks in motion with his excellent vision.
- Gabriel Torres: With Luis Tejada and Blas Perez in the latter stages of their playing careers, Torres has bravely and effectively stepped forward and looks to be a natural replacement for either of those strikers.
- *Hernan Dario Gomez: *With his side suffering occasional lapses of concentration during the long campaign, the coach has been able to give his side that little bit extra when needed most. Having already had World Cup journeys with Colombia and Ecuador, Gomez used his vast experience to execute a strategy that ensured Panama will enjoy the same adventure next year.
“It's a really significant achievement and something we deserve. We’ve been striving for this for a good while now and it all worked out. We’ve been working very well together and, despite what happened in the USA [Ed’s note: a 4-0 defeat in the penultimate matchday], we never lost faith or gave up.” Roman Torres, scorer of the decisive goal against Costa Rica
The stat *
*13 - Panama will be the 13th different side from the CONCACAF Zone to participate at the World Cup. Los Canaleros had been trying to reach the global finals since the qualifiers for Argentina 1978. Mexico lead the way in the region with 16 appearances on the global stage.