Guatemala City, March 17 (IANS) Two longtime stalwarts of Panama’s national football team acknowledged in Guatemala that the squad has an enormous task ahead of it in this summer’s World Cup but said it would will do its utmost to rise to the challenge.
Panama had never before qualified for football’s premier tournament and its chances of doing so seemed distant heading into the last set of matches of the fifth and final round of qualifying in the Concacaf (North, Central America and Caribbean) region, reports Efe.
But the squad managed to book its place in Russia thanks to its 2-1 victory over Costa Rica in October last year, and Trinidad and Tobago’s stunning upset that night of the United States by the same score.
“Panama had suffered a lot and suddenly we had the chance to qualify for a World Cup … and in the last match, almost in the final minutes, we got a little bit of luck,” 37-year-old striker Blas Perez told EFE after a training session with his club team, Municipal.
Perez is looking to get ready to compete on the world stage and is enjoying a strong run of form with the Guatemala City squad, having scored eight goals in his last dozen games.
Municipal’s other Panamanian player, defender Felipe Baloy, had a sparkle in his eyes when asked about the chance of making head coach Hernan Dario Gomez’s final cut and competing for Panama in the World Cup.
“We’re very pleased, very motivated about having achieved that goal and that dream that all Panamanians had,” Baloy, also 37, said.
Perez said he and Baloy were part of the backbone of the team that qualified for the World Cup and had achieved a “harmonious chemistry among young players and veterans” with a “hunger and desire to do things well.”
The Central American team has been drawn in the 2018 World Cup’s Group G along with Tunisia, Belgium and England, the latter two of which are “far superior” to Panama, Perez said.
“We know we’re not at that level, but on the field we must do everything in our power to equal them,” the striker added. “We’re going to go into those matches with a lot of pride and give all we have.”