Panama World Cup squad guide: Full fixtures, group, ones to watch, odds and more

PROFILE: With the tournament only days away we take an in-depth look at all 32 teams in Russia

Liam Twomey
Sunday 10 June 2018 12:45 BST
Comments
2018 Russia World Cup in numbers

A debut World Cup finals appearance represents a fitting last hurrah for Panama’s best-ever generation of players, as well as an historic achievement for a tiny country that has been delirious with excitement ever since their qualification was secured – shockingly at the expense of United States – last October.

Hernan Dario Gomez’s squad boasts the highest average number of international caps (62) and the third-highest average age (29) at the tournament, with goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, full-back Felipe Baloy and talismanic striker Blas Perez all the wrong side of 35. Yet the only previous World Cup experience is brought by the coach, who led Colombia in 1998 and Ecuador in 2002.

Emotions are likely to be high in the opening game against Belgium. Panama’s players will be motivated not just by the size of the stage but also by the desire to honour the memory of midfielder Amilcar Henriquez, who was a regular presence in the squad for more than a decade until being shot and killed outside his home last year.

Even if their pride does not translate into World Cup points, Panama will be determined to enjoy their experience in Russia, in the hope of inspiring the country’s youngsters to throw themselves into a sport that still faces stiff competition from baseball and boxing in terms of popularity.

Fixtures

Panama vs Belgium – 16:00, Monday 18 June
Panama vs England – 13:00, Sunday 24 June
Panama vs Tunisia – 19:00, Thursday 28 June

Key players

Jaime Penedo: One of only four Europe-based players in the Panama squad, Penedo is by far the most successful. The 36-year-old goalkeeper has had spells at Osasuna and LA Galaxy and currently plies his trade with Romanian club Dinamo Bucharest. He has been his country’s first choice for 15 years, earning 130 caps and providing the foundation for runner-up finishes in the 2005 and 2013 Gold Cups.

Blas Perez: Now 37, the muscular Perez remains the focal point of Panama’s attack, often holding the ball up as a lone striker and bringing others into play. His energy and tactical diligence in tracking back are qualities that helped make him a success in MLS with FC Dallas, and both will prove invaluable during the long spells his country will have to endure without the ball at the World Cup.

Roman Torres booked Panama's place at the 2018 World Cup
Roman Torres booked Panama's place at the 2018 World Cup (Getty Images)

Roman Torres: The scorer of the most important goal in Panamanian football history, Torres is the team’s deadlocked captain and the anchor at the heart of their defence. He played in Colombia for seven years, winning the league with Millionarios before joining Seattle Sounders, where he established himself as a man for the big occasion by scoring the penalty that won them the MLS Cup in 2016.

One to watch

Michael Murillo: New York Red Bulls’ promising defender brings a much-needed dash of youth to the Panama squad. Murillo, equally adept at playing in the middle or on the right of defence, was signed by the MLS club in November 2017 on the strength of a series of impressive performances on loan from Panamanian club San Francisco, and is reportedly already attracting European admirers.

How did they get here?

Panama edged into third place on the final match day of CONCACAF’s Hexagonal round with a 2-1 win over Costa Rica. The victory was not without controversy, as the equalising goal awarded by Guatemalan referee Walter Lopez never actually crossed the line despite ricocheting off defender Gabriel Torres and Perez in a penalty area scramble.

Their winning goal arrived through captain Torres in the 87th minute and that result, coupled with United States’ stunning 2-1 loss away against Trinidad and Tobago, was enough to secure Gomez’s men an automatic qualifying spot for Russia.

How will they do?

Finishing with a single point from Group G would be a remarkable achievement for Panama, given the gulf in talent and resources between them and Belgium, England and even Tunisia. Expect plenty of defensive football, a focus on set-pieces at both ends of the pitch and, despite their huge motivation and best efforts, a group stage exit.

Odds of winning the tournament: 1000/1

Full squad

Goalkeepers: Jaime Penedo, Jose Calderon, Alex Rodriguez.

Defenders: Michael Murillo, Harold Cummings, Fidel Escobar, Roman Torres, Adolfo Machado, Eric Davis, Luis Ovalle, Felipe Baloy.

Midfielders: Gabriel Gomez, Edgar Barcenas, Armando Cooper, Valentin Pimentel, Alberto Quintero, Anibal Godoy, Jose Luis Rodriguez.

Forwards: Blas Perez, Gabriel Torres, Ismael Diaz, Abdiel Arroyo, Luis Tejada.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in