England continue their quest to reach the World Cup knockout phase against Panama on Sunday.
Ahead of the Group G encounter in Nizhny Novgorod, Press Association Sport’s Simon Peach takes a closer look at the Central American minnows.
How did they get to Russia?
Sunday is Panama’s second match of their first World Cup. In 2013, their hopes of reaching the finals were cruelly denied as the United States came back in stoppage time in inflict a remarkable late defeat. This time, it is the Americans watching the finals from afar. Their loss to already eliminated Trinidad and Tobago allowed Panama to book their place via an 88th-minute winner against rivals Costa Rica.
Who is the coach?
Hernan Dario Gomez led Panama to their first World Cup – his third trip to the finals. After spending his playing career in his homeland, the Colombian went onto become head coach of former cub Atletico Nacional and then the national team. Gomez led Colombia to two Copa Americas and the 1998 World Cup , before leading Ecuador to their first finals in 2002. Spells in club management and at the helm of Guatemala and Colombia once again followed before heading to Panama in 2014.
What can we expect from them?
“If we lose then fine, but let us not get thrashed,” Gomez said in the build-up to the tournament. Panama are less technically able than Tunisia and far less mobile, with many of their players 30 or over. That experience might make life difficult for England, so too their physicality in sweltering Nizhny Novgorod. Yet the pace at Gareth Southgate’s disposal could well give them a fright,
What is their recent form?
Not good. Panama lost 1-0 to Denmark in March, when Switzerland dished out a 6-0 shellacking days later. Last month they held Northern Ireland to a goalless draw, then lost 1-0 to Norway and 3-0 to Belgium in their Group G opener. Panama held firm in the first half against Roberto Martinez’s Red Devils, only for Dries Mertens’ volley to be complemented by a Romelu Lukaku brace. They sit 55th in the FIFA world rankings.
Who is the player to watch?
Panama do not have star names and are a built on collective spirit and skill. If anyone has the potential to be key man it is dreadlocked captain Roman Torres. The defender, nicknamed ‘Mazinger’ after a manga robot because of his bulky frame, is the symbol of the Panamanian team. The Seattle Sounders player netted the goal that sent the country to Russia and manager Gomez confirmed in the pre-match press conference that Torres will feature in an unchanged starting line-up.