Friday 31 May 2019, 20:35

Diego Valanta, Panama’s history-making super sub

An emotional Diego Valanta embraces Panama U-20 coach Jorge Dely Valdes
  • Diego Valanta scored the goal that claimed Panama's first-ever U-20 World Cup win

  • It also secured Los Canaleros a meeting with Ukraine in the Round of 16

  • The hero enthused to about bliss in Bydgoszcz

Diego Valanta could quite possibly be the most valuable player to a team at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Poland 2019, and he’s played a little over 22 minutes in total so far.

During that short time, he scored an equaliser to earn Panama a vital point against Mali, and a match-winning goal against Saudi Arabia to claim their maiden victory in the competition, sending them through to the knockout stage for the first time.

In Panama’s opening game against Mali, Valanta netted a penalty just two minutes after coming on as a substitute – the only spot-kick converted out of four attempted in Bydgoszcz. “I think it’s God working through me,” Valanta told

Valanta was on the substitutes' bench for Los Canaleros’ clash with France, a 2-0 defeat. Against Saudi Arabia, Panama coach Jorge Dely Valdes called upon the forward in the 73rd minute, and in a moment of déjà vu, there he was again, scoring a goal that has kept Panama’s Poland 2019 journey alive.

“The first thing I thought was that we want to qualify,” Valanta said. “The second is that it’s a huge victory for us. This is historic for our country, and we thank God it happened."

“I dedicate this goal to all of the people who have been with me from the start, and through all the things I have lived through in my life. People took me for granted, and said I wasn’t very good, and now I’m here, and I dedicate this goal to all of them.”

The result is psychologically significant for Los Canaleros, who finally won an U-20 World Cup match at the 18th time of asking. Panama had played in five editions before Poland 2019, and went out after the group stage on every occasion, losing 12 of those 15 games.

“I think it’s very important for the group, and for every one of our careers,” Valanta said. “We only try to do our best for our country. My career has never been easy. It’s filled with hardships and difficult moments but every single one of them is important to me and I remember all of them.

“I work hard every day and I work for every moment that I can get on the pitch, so I can be prepared. I don’t care if I play ten minutes or 15. This time I was lucky enough to be a sub and score two goals, and I’m very thankful, and thanks to God it happened.”

Panama will now travel south to Tychy to face Group D winners Ukraine on 3 June.

“For Panama, people will be filled with pride, but we’ve been preparing for this as a group," said Valanta. "This is not a surprise for us. We are prepared for whatever happens.”