- Roman Torres played a decisive role in Panama's World Cup qualification
- The captain scored a late winner versus Costa Rica last October
- Los Canaleros face Belgium, England and Tunisia in Group G at Russia 2018
It is every footballers’ dream to shine in the big moments of a match or a competition. Panama captain Roman Torres can consider himself fortunate to have created such moments on more than one occasion.
In December 2016, the centre-back became the toast of the Seattle Sounders when his decisive penalty in a shoot-out win over Toronto FC secured the club’s first-ever Major League Soccer (MLS) Cup title. Fast-forward to 10 October 2017, and a highly eventful night in CONCACAF zone qualifying. It was Torres that delivered the key moment with a dramatic late goal in Panama’s 2-1 home win over Costa Rica that - coupled with results elsewhere - secured Los Canaleros their maiden berth at a FIFA World Cup™.
Full of pride, the 32-year-old remembers those big moments with great fondness. “I do enjoy it. I enjoy it a lot,” Torres told FIFA.com. “God has given me those moments and I’ve put in maximum effort to be in those situations. Those sacrifices make me desire those moments.”
Though not immediately aware of the significance of his winning goal at the Estadio Rommel Fernandez, it would emotionally hit home for the centre-back at the final whistle. “When my team-mates told me that we had qualified directly to the World Cup, I took my shirt off again, began to cry, and started celebrating with the Panamanian fans,” Torres said of that momentous evening in Panama City. “They had been waiting for so many years to see that moment, to have that happiness of seeing the Panamanian national team going to a World Cup.”
The Gomez effect
While there was a certain amount of good fortune in Panama’s qualification to a first-ever world finals, their place at Russia 2018 is seen in the central American nation as the fulfillment of a talented generation of players that has benefitted from the guiding hand of experienced coach Hernan Dario Gomez. One of only two coaches to have led three different countries to a World Cup, El Bolillo knows all about the big stage after leading his native Colombia at France 1998 and Ecuador at Korea/Japan 2002.
“The truth is he is a coach that always wants to win, that always wants a challenge,” Torres said of Gomez. “When he arrived in Panama, he knew he was facing a significant challenge, knowing Panama had never made it to a World Cup and seeing what the infrastructure was like. I think his vision, as well as his experience of taking other teams to the World Cup, gave our team the confidence in him to take us there.”
Baptism of fire
As anticipation builds for Panama’s debut at football’s showpiece event, Torres and his team-mates are well aware of the test that lies in front of them in Russia. Drawn in Group G, the central Americans will make their debut against Belgium in Sochi on 18 June before facing England in Nizhny Novgorod six days later. They conclude their group campaign versus Tunisia in Saransk on 28 June.
Despite the pedigree of the opposition they will face, Torres believes Los Canaleros have the ability to cause a surprise. “We were put in a very good group, and going into the games, we have to proceed with the mentality that we will be facing very important opponents with very important players,” he said. “Our objective is to play well and get through the group stage. I think if Costa Rica was able to do it, why can’t Panama do it as well.”