Panama's Qualification for the 2018 World Cup
Panama are one of the surprise inclusions at the 2018 World Cup. This will be the first time that they have played in the tournament since they entered qualification in 1978. Bet UK are going to take a look at how Panama made it to Russia with a historic round of qualification.
CONCACAF World Cup Qualification
The CONCACAF Qualification is more complicated than we are used to in Europe. With so many teams trying to qualify, the process is split into 5 different rounds. The first 3 rounds are all played as 2 leg ties. The winners will advance to the next round, as well as some higher ranking teams being added to the draw. Panama are the 5th highest ranking teams in CONCACAF, so were automatically entered into the 4th round.
CONCACAF World Cup Qualification 4th Round
Unlike the previous rounds, the 4th round is split into 3 group stages, with each group having 4 teams. Each team plays each other twice, both home and away, with the top 2 teams from each group advancing to the 5th round.
Panama’s group included Costa Rica, Haiti and Jamaica. Panama eventually finished second after the 6 games, with 3 wins, 1 draw and 2 defeats. The 2 defeats both came against Costa Rica, with the gulf in class between the 2 teams becoming quite apparent. At the time of the 4th Round Draw, Costa Rica were ranked 48 places higher than Panama, so it’s no surprise that they won both games. Wins home and away to Jamaica set Panama on their way to the 5th round of qualification, with their hopes of a first World Cup growing stronger.
CONCACAF World Cup Qualification 5th Round
The 5th round is another group stage, with 6 teams each playing each other home and away. The top 3 teams automatically qualify for the World Cup, with the 4th place team heading to an intercontinental play off. The other 5 teams that Panama were up against were the 5 best teams in the CONCACAF region, and all boasted previous World Cup experience.
Panama started off their qualification with a 1-0 away win at Honduras and a 0-0 draw with eventual group winners Mexico. A disappointing loss to Trinidad and Tobago was then followed up with a famous 1-1 draw with USA. Panama were building a reputation as a team that were hard to beat. They might not score a lot of goals, but they had a strong defence that teams were struggling to break down. Another 2 draws were then followed by 2 defeats, essentially putting Panama out of the race, with USA expected to cruise through against Trinidad and Tobago.
The final World Cup Qualification match
Going into the final group game, Panama faced Costa Rica at home, a team that had already qualified for the 2018 World Cup. They needed a win to have any hope of going to Russia, as well as hoping the USA couldn’t beat Trinidad and Tobago, a team who had only won once so far and were guaranteed to finish bottom of the group. Honduras were their only other threat, but Panama had a superior goal difference, so as long as Panama won, they wouldn’t have to worry.
Trinidad and Tobago got off to a surprisingly strong start, going into halftime with a 2-0 lead. They were doing all they could to prevent the USA getting to the World Cup, but Panama still had it all to do. Costa Rica took a 1-0 lead after 36 minutes, but many thought it was underserved. Both Panama and the USA came out firing in the second half. 10 minutes into the second half. Blas Perez scored an equaliser for Panama and Christian Pulisic pulled one back for the USA. Panama continued to pressure the Costa Rica defence, going into the last 10 minutes still just needing one goal as results were falling their way. In the 88th minute, centre back Roman Torres found himself in the opposition box. A headed through ball set him up perfectly for a volley that he rifled into the roof of the net. Torres ran off into the crowd to celebrate as his teammates and coaching staff quickly followed. The celebrations postponed the match for 4 minutes as both fans and players continued to celebrate Torres’ historic goal.
The final whistle blew in Panama and in Trinidad, confirming Panama’s World Cup status. Roman Torres was a national hero. The president declared a national holiday the day after the game so everyone could celebrate. The whole country was in disbelief at what had just happened and no one was not prepared to celebrate the iconic achievement. Panama might be going into the World Cup as underdogs, but fans can simply celebrate the fact that they have made it to Russia. Panama start their tournament against Belgium on the 18th June before taking on England and Tunisia. If they can carry on their qualifying form into the tournament, then Gareth Southgate’s men might have a harder time than first thought. Read Bet UK's preview of England v Panama, or take a look at the home of the 2018 World Cup at Bet UK.