A 2-1 win against Costa Rica booked Panama's first World Cup berth in the nations history.
Panama World Cup Fixtures, Squad, Group, Guide
Panama vs Belgium (18th June)
Nobody expects much from Panama this World Cup, and they face Belgium in their first game. Match preview here.
Panama Starting XI: 1 Jaime Penedo, 2 Michael Murillo, 4 Fidel Escobar, 5 Roman Torres, 6 Gabriel Gomez, 7 Blas Perez (18 Luis Tejada 73), 8 Edgar Barcenas (9 Gabriel Torres 63), 11 Armando Cooper, 15 Erick Davis, 20 Anibal Godoy, 21 Jose Luis Rodriguez (10 Ismael Diaz 63)
Belgium Starting XI: 1 Thibaut Courtois, 2 Toby Alderweirald, 5 Jan Vertonghen, 6 Axel Witsel (22 Nacer Chadli 90), 7 Kevin De Bruyne, 9 Romelu Lukaku, 10 Eden Hazard, 11 Juan Carrasco (19 Mousa Dembele 74), 14 Dries Mertens (16 Thorgan Hazard 83), 15 Thomas Meunier, 20 Dedryck Boyata
Belgium 3 Panama 0
Belgium: Mertens 47, Lukaku 69, 75
Belgium eventually overran debutants Panama in their opening game thanks to an improved second-half performance in Sochi.
Belgium were lethargic for much of the first half, failing to press a well-organised, deep-lying Panamanian side. The breakthrough came through a moment of individual brilliance from Dries Mertens shortly after the break.
Panama heads did not drop after conceding and they had several chances before two Romelu Lukaku goals confirmed the Belgian victory.
Matter of fact
Romelu Lukaku became the first Belgian to score twice in a World Cup game since Marc Wilmots in 1998.
Romulu Lukaku received very little quality service throughout the match – with the exception of two passes: one from De Bruyne for his headed goal, the other from Hazard for his second, and Belgium’s third.
Possession (%): 61/39
Goal attempts: 15/6
Attempts on target: 7/4
Pass accuracy (%): 89/82
Distance covered (km): 102/100
Panama World Cup Guide
After going agonisingly close four years ago, Panama finally booked their first ticket to a World Cup by finishing third in the CONCACAF qualifying group after a dramatic victory against Costa Rica. With a team more hard working than talented, and players who have been playing together for a long time, the Canaleros have a tough draw and will do well to get out of the group.
Key Moments in Qualifying
A goal from Fidel Escobar earns a surprise victory in Honduras at the start of the fifth round.
After a good draw with Mexico, the team begins to stutter. A defeat in Trinidad & Tobago and a draw at home to the USA sees Panama lose the advantage over the rest of the pack that they had acquired in the opening games.
A 3-0 victory against Honduras breaks a six-game winless streak that had taken them from third to fifth place in the group. But a month later, a 4-0 loss in the US means they have to win their final game against Costa Rica and hope Honduras and the Americans lose.
The miracle happens. A goal by Blas Perez – which never crossed the line – and another by Roman Torres in the dying minutes gives Panama a 2-1 victory over Costa Rica.
Panama World Cup Group
Panama World Cup Friendlies
Panama played against Denmark on the 22nd March and lost 1-0. They then got absolutely hammered 6-0 against Switzerland five days later. In April they beat Trinidad and Tobago and then drew against Northern Ireland in May. Finally they lost to Norway on the 6th of June.
- 22nd March – Denmark (lost 1-0)
- 27th March – Switzerland (lost 6-0)
- 18th April – Trinidad and Tobago (won 1-0)
- 28th May – Northern Ireland (drew 0-0)
- 6th June – Norway (lost 1-0)
Panama World Cup Fixtures
Hernan Dario Gomez, age 61 (03.02.61)
Appointed in February 2014, the Colombian has become an expert in South America and CONCACAF qualification, having previously booked a ticket with Colombia in 1998 and Ecuador in 2002. His record in the tournament is less successful, having been twice eliminated in the first round.
There aren’t too many standout players in the squad, but if you have to choose one it would be captain Roman Torres, who scored the goal that clinched qualification. Known as “Mazinger” because his body resembles that of a wrestler more than a footballer, he embodies the team virtue of determination rather than skill.
The spine of the team has been the same for at least eight years, with goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, defender Felipe Baloy, midfielder Gabriel Gomez, and strikers Blas Perez, Armando Cooper and Luis Tejada.
Tragically, midfielder Amilcar Henriquez was killed in a robbery in April 2017. Aged 33 and with 84 caps, he was an essential part of coach Gomez’s system.
Panama World Cup Squad
Final 23-man squad –
GOALKEEPERS: Jose Calderon (Chorrillo), Jaime Penedo (Dinamo Bucharest), Alex Rodriguez (San Francisco).
DEFENDERS: Felipe Baloy (Municipal CSD), Harold Cummings (San Jose Earthquakes), Erick Davis (Dunajska Streda), Fidel Escobar, Michael Murillo, Adolfo Machado, Luis Ovalle, Roman Torres (Seattle Sounders).
MIDFIELDERS: Jose Luis Rodriguez (Gent), Edgar Barcenas (Cafetaleros de Tapachula), Armando Cooper (Universidad de Chile), Anibal Godoy (San Jose Earthquakes), Gabriel Gomez (Bucaramanga), Valentin Pimentel (Plaza Amador), Alberto Quintero (Universitario).
FORWARDS: Abdiel Arroyo (Alajuelense), Ismael Diaz (Deportivo La Coruna), Blas Perez (Municipal), Luis Tejada (Sports Boys), Gabriel Torres (CD Huachipato).
Panama World Cup Injuries
We will update you with notable injuries here.
Captain: Roman Torres (middle) is the best of a team that is made up of hard-workers, not stars (Getty Images)
The Unanswered Questions
Will Hernan Dario Gomez dare to make changes?
Of the team that started the decisive match against Costa Rica, only three – Fidel Escobar (22), Edgar Barcenas (24) and Anibal Godoy (27) – were under 29. But while the coach’s commitment to experience may have paid off against regional opponents, a lack of pace could be a handicap against more powerful opposition.
What to do with Felipe Baloy?
For years he has been a rock in the defence. But relegated to the bench for the Costa Rica game, it is pertinent to ask whether, at 36, he can still contribute.
Will the team be able to compete in the World Cup?
After booking their ticket, the prevalent feeling is that the team have done the hard part. The hope now is that they arrive in Russia with sufficient motivation to pull off an upset like Costa Rica did four years ago.
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