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World Cup 2018: Panama

 

Having qualified for the 2018 World Cup, the president of Panama declared a public holiday to allow the people of the country to celebrate.

This will be the first time Panama have played at the World Cup finals and they are going to make the most of being at the world’s biggest sporting event.

Panama first tried to qualify for the World Cup in 1978 but with no luck. Between 1978 and 1994, Panama won only 2 World Cup qualifying matches and never came close to qualifying for the tournament.

They showed signs of improvement in 1998 and 20 years later they did the unthinkable and qualified at the expense of the United States.  Panama won their final match at home against Costa Rica while the United States suffered a shock defeat to bottom team Trinidad and Tobago.

Some fans believe it was the poor showing by United States more so than great play by Panama which saw the latter reach Russia but Panama will not care about that when they take to the field for their first game against Belgium.

Panama have been handed a tough draw at the 2018 World Cup and will face two strong European nations in Belgium and England.  Their final match is against Tunisia and the best Panama can realistically hope for is to pick up a point against one of the European teams and defeat Tunisia in their last game.  If they can do that, they have a chance of reaching the Round of 16.

Panama is best known for baseball and boxing but the football team has come close to winning the CONCACAF Gold Cup on a couple of occasions, finishing runners-up in 2005 and 2013.  Panama’s coach, Hernan Gomez knows he will be facing some top quality attackers at the World Cup and much of the preparation following qualifying has been to nullify the threat posed by Belgium’s and England’s forwards.

Gomez played with a back five against Denmark in a recent friendly match and lost the game 1-0 but that was quickly followed by a heavy 6-0 defeat at the hands of Switzerland.  It’s that type of loss Panama will be keen to avoid in Russia, so expect them to line-up in a very defensive formation with the aim to contain teams rather than defeat them.

The captain of Panama and leading central defender is Felipe Baloy but he is 37 years old and with other experienced players in their team at their mid-30’s, this is not a young side.  Against Switzerland they looked very immobile at the back and the other three teams in the group will be hoping to exploit what looks a big weakness.

Panama are a physical team and like their opponents to know they are there but this can lead to disciplinary problems and Blas Perez was sent off against Denmark for a poor challenge on the goalkeeper.

Panama are unlikely to cause any major upsets at the 2018 World Cup but they are going to be very entertaining to watch.