Wednesday 31 January 2024, 13:00

Quintana: "We made Panama fans proud. That is our legacy”

  • Women’s national team head coach Ignacio Quintana recently attended the Post FIFA Women’s World Cup Coaches Forum.

  • The dad-to-be revealed the dual around one of the tournament’s stand-out goals

  • He also explained how Panama’s experience as one of eight debutants will shape the next phase of development

2 August 2023 is a date that football fans in Panama are unlikely to forget. There was just one minute and nine seconds on the clock in their final group stage match at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023™ against France, when Marta Cox's free-kick from distance flew into the top corner and kissed the French goalkeeper's net; Panama's first-ever goal in the history of the competition. Almost five months have passed and the memory for Panama coach Ignacio Quintana still gives him goosebumps as he re-watched it on the sidelines of the post FIFA Women’s World Cup Coaches Forum "I already knew she was going to score that goal," Quintana said as he re-watched Cox’s masterful strike.

"She came up to me a minute before the game started and said: we're going to make history. A minute later, she scored. She already knew she was going to score that goal. Definitely!” Quintana excitedly asked to watch the clip again, before confessing that he watches the video before every training session as motivation. If Panama’s performance against the fifth ranked team in the world (pre-tournament) was not cause for celebration enough at the Sydney Football Stadium, Ignacio revealed there was a very personal influence behind his goal reaction. "Many people asked me why I was looking towards the stands when we celebrated. I had found out two days before the Jamaica game, that I was going to be a dad. So that's why I turned to the stands to look at my wife. I was celebrating with my wife and daughter. It was a very special moment for me," he recalled with emotion.

Ignacio Quintana, Head Coach of Panama, during the FIFA Women's World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023 Group F match between Panama and France at Sydney Football Stadium

This special moment also radically changed the way millions of Panamanian fans now see women's football. "When we took part in the World Cup, we didn't really realise what we had achieved. But when we returned to the country and saw that people recognised them [the players] in the street and that there were girls wearing shirts with the number and name of our players, that made us feel proud.” Post-tournament, one thing is clear to Ignacio Quintana: he wants Panama to return to the next edition of the FIFA Women's World Cup. For that, there is work to be done. "The Federation's job now is to further involve the fans and players, to professionalise the game, not just in terms of finances, but also in terms of infrastructure. It is a sport that has no limits, which is growing at a speed that no one expected.”

HAMILTON, NEW ZEALAND - FEBRUARY 23: Marta Cox of Panama celebrates during the 2023 FIFA World Cup Play Off Tournament match between Paraguay and Panama at Waikato Stadium on February 23, 2023 in Hamilton, New Zealand. (Photo by Joe Allison - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

That girl who was wearing the shirt with the name of Marta Cox on the back will probably become the next Marta Cox in four or eight years. We are committed to those parents and to those girls who appreciated the effort we made.

Iganacio Quintana
Panama Women's National Team Head Coach

In the more immediate term, the focus turns to the development of youth football, where the next big generation of stars are forged. Qualifiers for the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup Dominican Republic 2024 are just around the corner. Panama opens their campaign against USA on Friday 2 February, with Canada and Puerto Rico completing Group B. "In our case, we aren’t a country with a high volume of eligible players, so we have a very low average age in our senior team," Quintana said. "For us, a U-17 or U-20 competition is like direct scouting. Marta Cox, for example, experienced this a few years ago. She was already playing with senior national team at 13 or 14 years old. Little by little we try to give them more tools, not only in terms of football but also regarding nutrition, psychology and health, aspects where we are more behind, and that we mustn’t ignore."

La Federación Panameña de Fútbol (FEPAFUT) have been beneficiaries of half a dozen of FIFA’s Women’s Football Development programmes in the last three years, playing their role in working towards Goal 8 of the Strategic Objectives of the Global Game 2023-2027: ‘helping to drive the further development of women's football'. "FIFA has already opened the doors for more national teams to play at the World Cup,” Quintana continued. “Opening the doors to more teams gave us the opportunity to show the world that we are not that far away from being able to compete. In our case, we struggled during the World Cup, but we took real pleasure from watching other teams that were participating for the first time being able to win matches. That makes us hopeful for the same in four years’ time.” The post-FIFA Women’s World Cup Coaches Forum also provided an opportunity to return home with more information and carve new coaching alliances. "For us as first-timers, it's fundamental to be able to have a group chat with coaches like Jorge Vilda, or to be able to talk to a coach like Jill Ellis, who has the experience of having won two World Cups. I think it was a unique moment. I came here [to the Home of FIFA] with a commitment to learn, and an obligation to return to Panama and share these experiences with the coaches there too.”

FIFA Chief of Global Football Development Arsène Wenger with Panama women's national football team Head Coach Ignacio Quintana during the Post FIFA Women's World Cup Coaches Forum

Lessons have already been learned from the team’s experience in Australia, creating building blocks from which to progress for the future. "It was an experience in which everything was new to us,” admitted Quintana candidly. “We tried to enjoy it, but also had in mind the responsibility to make this the first World Cup of many. We were going to learn, but we were also going to analyse how to qualify again, knowing that it was going to be a difficult competition in a very difficult group. “The support of our fans in Panama was fundamental for the team. We made them feel proud of every one of these players. I think that’s our legacy," he concluded with a smile.