Thursday 20 December 2018, 18:16

Panamanian futbol's paradisiacal year

  • Panamanian men, women and boys excelled in 2018

  • delivers a timeline of their successes

  • Sobbing, saves and starlets feature

Panamanian futbol has relished an annus mirabilis. Panama did not just swim in the sport’s most prestigious canal in 2018, but made a splash in other waters. delivers a timeline of Panama’s success.

18 June Sochi, Russia Around 5,000 Panamanians were by the Black Sea to see their country become the 79th to play in the FIFA World Cup™. Panama president Juan Carlos Varela was one, admirably non-encompassed by bodyguards, strolling around beforehand and joining in the chants like an everyday fan. When Himno Istmeño, the national anthem, echoed around Fisht Olympic Stadium before kick-off against Belgium, captain Roman Torres sheds tears, while David Samudio and Miguel Angel Remon, covering the match on Panamanian television, bubbled like babies and embraced one another. What a moment.

24 June Nizhny, Russia 6-0 down to England, Panama could have pardoned for wanting no más, right? Instead, Ricardo Avila whipped in a sumptuous cross and Felipe Baloy, sliding, hyperextended his right leg and employed exquisite technique to cushion the ball past Joe Hart and into the bottom corner. Inevitably, it provoked more tears on the packed streets of Panama at 8:40am, and from the man narrating the game to them on TV Max. “Goal! Goal!” the commentator uttered between sobs. “Felipe has scored in the World Cup! Our first goal!”

30 June Panama City, Panama Innumerable euphoric Panamanians lined their streets to venerate the heroes who did their charming, little country proud by holding Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Co until the second half, producing a spirited last 45 minutes against England and narrowly losing to Tunisia. An open-top bus took the players from Tocumen International Airport to Urraca Park, where several players were given the keys to the city.

7 October 2018 Cary, USA USA, the untouchable FIFA Women’s World Cup™ holders, won 5-0 on home soil in CONCACAF qualifying for France 2019, but Panama’s 17-year-old goalkeeper Yenith Bailey monopolised the post-match talk, thanks to a miraculous performance. At the final whistle, Carli Lloyd, The Best FIFA Women’s Player in 2016 and runner-up in 2017, and team-mates immediately run over to congratulate Bailey.

10 October 2018 Cary, USA Las Canaleras produced their greatest-ever result, winning 2-0 to end Mexico’s hopes of a third consecutive Women’s World Cup appearance. A superb denial of Charlyn Corral’s first-half penalty was, extraordinarily, one of 37 saves Bailey made in three Group A matches. The result afforded Victor Suarez’s side three cracks at a France 2019 place and, although they fell to Canada, lost on penalties to Jamaica, and were beaten by Argentina in the CONCACAF-CONMEBOL play-off, no Panamanian will forget the finest evening of a ground-breaking campaign in a hurry.

6 November Bradenton, USA Canada, boasting a goalkeeper from Turin titans Juventus and several MLS-based outfielders, were the favourites. Panama nevertheless won 2-1, thanks to a Saed Diaz double – his second an intelligent, improvised effort – to fasten themselves in the driving seat for Group D’s ticket to the next round of the CONCACAF U-20 Championship.

16 November Bradenton, USA Three days after substitute Axel McKenzie sunk El Salvador, the latter’s defeat to Mexico confirmed Panama’s place at Poland 2019. Ernesto Walker’s brace then gave Panama a 2-2 draw with a Mexico side that have won silver and bronze at the FIFA U-20 World Cup.