We all witnessed the scenes when Panama qualified for their first ever World Cup in October 2017. We also know that since it was the nation’s first qualification, it played a big role in the size of the celebrations. What many people may not know, however, is that Panama has been on the rise for a while.
The recent results in Panamanian soccer are really good. Panama reached three consecutive Gold Cup final fours in 2011, 2013, and 2015. They, of course, qualified for the World Cup, edging out the historically superior Honduras and the much better funded United States.
At the youth level, Panama’s U-17 teams have shown success in recent years, and as those players are hitting the top-level that success is carrying over. The boys made the 2011 and 2013 U-17 World Cups, meaning there are now two generations of U-17 players in their primes.
Most people do not expect Panama to obtain great results in Russia, and frankly, they have a pretty tough group, but third place is within their grasp. The matches against Belgium and England will be difficult encounters, but it is possible to imagine a draw for the canaleros. Tunisia, on the other hand, is winnable and Panama will play to win with the hope to earn some points in Group G.
It is their first ever showing at the World Cup, and I think most Panama fans will agree that good results are not as important as enjoying the experience. Next time, whenever that may be, will be the time to get serious.
The other piece of the puzzle, one that often gets abandoned, is the success of the domestic league in Panama. Thanks to Tauro’s upset over FC Dallas in the CONCACAF Champions League (CCL) earlier this week, the Liga Panameña will again be represented in the quarterfinals of the competition. Last year, one might recall Arabe Unido’s back-to-back group stage victories over Monterrey, in what has to be considered one of the biggest upsets in CCL history.
Arabe Unido also won their group in the 2013/14 edition, knocking-off the Houston Dynamo in the process. Remember, the Liga Panameña does not receive many seeds in this tournament when compared to the MLS or Liga MX. With limited options, they have still managed to advance into the later rounds at a consistent rate; one that is matched only by the region’s “Big 3”.
All in all, it is clear that football in Panama is on the upswing, and I don’t think it has reached its peak yet. Keep your eyes on Tauro in the next round of the CCL, and of course, we’ll see how they fare in Russia.