World Cup 2018: Panama Preview

After reaching their first World Cup finals, what should we expect from the Panamanians?


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Panama’s arrival in Russia is sure to be one of the feel-good narratives of the tournament. The epitome of an underdog, the 55th ranked side in the world will arrive at the World Cup aiming to collect a point in Group G. 

As is often the case in life, something/someone that has nothing to lose if often a dangerous animal…

Panama are joined in Group G by Belgium, England, and Tunisia, with their opening match coming on June 18th.

Route to the finals

Rank outsiders Panama reached their first ever World Cup after piping Honduras
to third spot by a mere five goals. With just three wins in their qualification
group, ‘Los Canaleros’ showed their potential with wins over Costa Rica, Trinidad
and Tobago, as well as an away win in Honduras.

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The 88th minute Roman Torres winner against Costa Rica will be forever etched in
the memories of proud Panamanians; their World Cup adventure will be the
cherry on an already iced cake.


Starting XI

Banking on the counter-attacking style of football that has served the underdog
so well in world football, Hernan Dario Gomez is under no illusions of the task
that awaits his Central American side in Russia. 

“We’ll go to the World Cup to learn and compete”, the Colombian stated, with a daunting group comprising of England, Tunisia, and Belgium awaiting them.

Midfielder Gabriel Gomez dictates much of Panama’s good work. If the 1000/1
shots are to pick up any points in Russia, expect the 33-year-old to be at the heart
of it as he looks to build on his remarkable 142 caps.

Torres and Tejeda lead the line, with 57 international goals between them.

Key player: Luis Tejada.

The top scorer in the history of Panama's national team with 43 goals, Tejada will be looking for the fairytale ending to his international career. Having announced recently that he will retire after the World Cup this summer, the 36-year-old nicknamed the 'Matador', will be willing to empty the gas tank in pursuit of Panamanian glory.

Last Friday, Tejada told the media "I'm retiring. I talked to my wife and I told her that my greatest gift from God was to be around when Panama qualified for a World Cup. I'm realistic. There are a lot of young players coming up who are doing the right things and are waiting for us to step aside. After the World Cup, I'll say thank you for everything. But I'll continue on at my club because in Peru they want me to keep going until I'm 50".

Tongue-in-cheek, perhaps, however, the Sport Boys striker has continued to deliver in front of goal into his mid-30s. There will be pressure on his starting position from Blas Pérez, mainly, but Tejada's experience on this biggest of stages will be invaluable to the Panama side.

Group Stage

Group G: Belgium, England, Tunisia, Panama

Panama conceded more goals than they scored through their qualifying campaign.
The narrative is set for the Central Americans to become the ‘whipping boys’ against
Belgium, especially, with a big swing of goals expected in Belgium's favour.

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The England game comes second, with Panama looking to frustrate Gareth Southgate's side for as long as possible. England have enough creativity in the final third to ask many questions of Panama's defence; Tunisia should find that task a lot harder.

Panama vs Tunisia is set up nicely as the final fixture of Group G. If the group goes to scrip, then this will prove an intriguing fixture as both sides chase an elusive World Cup victory.

Prediction

Not much can be expected from a 1000/1 shot at the World Cup. Los Canaleros fumbled their way to Russia in underwhelming style - the term 'pleased just to take part' could not ring truer when describing the Panamanians.

A point or three against Tunisia will be historic for the small nation of just 4 million. The gulf in quality between themselves and a majority of other teams at the finals is a wide and dense as the Darien Gap. 

Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss Group B in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.

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