Every time I open my mouth, it is readily apparent I wasn’t reared in Panama. My Aussie accent (even in Spanish) is punctuated by the fact I maintain a painfully fair skin tone, not readily accustomed to the hot sun generated for a country located just a few degrees north of the equator. Nonetheless, I am more than a little excited about Panama’s inaugural appearance in the World Cup, being held this summer in Russia. I can’t wait to scream “GOAL!” when the Panama National Team scores.
While the United States failed to secure a place among the 32 teams, Panama and tiny Iceland are two countries who will be there for the very first time. Neither Panama nor Iceland are leading contenders to win the overall competition, but they are expected to make gallant runs with hopes to go deep in the tournament.
This Big Deal Is Complicated
This is a very big deal for Panama! The Panama National Football (Soccer0 Team has tried to qualify for every World Cup since 1978, and when they finally advanced, after 80 years, the day after the victory was declared a national holiday by Panamanian President, Juan Carlos Varela. School children and adults danced in the streets until well-past sunrise; in Panama City to Chitre and David, Chame and La Chorrea. It is still difficult to describe the national pride that was on display after winning a trip to the World Cup.
The reigning World Cup champion, Germany, is expect to be in the semi-finals along with powerhouse teams such as Brazil, France and Argentina, but there is real hope Panama could survive the first round of games and then move on as one of the final 16 teams.
A Bit Obscure And Subjective
Almost everyone in Panama understands the fundamentals of soccer or, as they say in Europe, “football”, but knowing the ins and outs of how the 32 teams actually make the cut, or how they are placed in their “Group” for initial play, is fairly obscure and subjective. It can be reduced to how many goals a team has scored all year or against another particular team. Russia, ranked around 65th in the world is playing simply on the fact they are the host country!
Because the 32 teams who eventually qualify for play, are subjected to such a complicated process, it can take more than three years to decide who will play in the World Cup. Qualifying is fluid and depends on so many factors, it’s hard to keep track, but over 209 countries from the six confederations—Asia, Europe, North America/Central America/Caribbean, Africa, Oceania, and South America—started the qualifying process after the 2014 World Cup which was held in Brazil. The competition is played only every four years; after the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the next World Cup will be held in 2022 in Qatar.
England, Tunisia and Belgium!
With the 32 teams, there will be eight “groups” comprised of four teams each. Panama is in Group G and will play against England, Belgium and Tunisia. This is a tough bracket, (decided via random drawing) but there are others which are even more difficult. Belgium and England are predicted to emerge from Group G, but I’m thinking it might include Panama!
Panama will have their first game against Belgium on June 18th in Sochi. There are 11 different venues throughout Russia where the games will be held, but Panama’s first effort will be in the beautiful Fisht Stadium, the site of the opening and closing ceremonies of 2014 Winter Olympics. It’s going to be dramatic.
Belgium is ranked as one of the top five teams on the planet, so the game will be a challenging one for Panama, but certainly not impossible. Nothing is impossible in the World Cup! After the game with Belgium, Panama will play England on June 24 in Nizhny Novgorod and against Tunisia June 28th in Saransk. All the games will be televised so I can already envision the bars and restaurants, as well as most homes in Panama, with all eyes focused on the games. Viva Panama!
I’ll Be Reporting—Games, People, Players!
As one of Panama’s leading lifestyle bloggers, I feel strongly that I should provide an in-depth look at how Panamanians celebrate the World Cup, who goes to the games personally, the outcomes of the various matches and how Panama appears on such a world stage. I will be posting blogs throughout the World Cup, with interviews of the players and personal stories about individuals who go to Russia and represent our country. Let me do the work for you, with stylized writing you can only get here! My reports won’t be canned statistics, but rather what makes Panamanians and Panama so very special.
Not A Level Playing Field
The World Cup is not a level playing field and Panama will feel the difference. I want to report how the Panamanians respond to the different factors impacting the outcome of the World Cup. For example, each country will have a Team Base Camp (TBC) located somewhere in Russia. There are qualifying factors such as the type of training facilities available and how far the TBC is from a major airport (it can’t be more than an hours drive away), but basically each team has a TBC assigned by the World Cup’s governing body, FIFA, and then agreed upon by the individual countries, but there are major differences.
Panama’s TBC will be in Saransk and their training facilities and hotel will be at the Olympic Sports Center. While Panama feels lucky to have such a superior TBC, it should be noted that powerhouse Germany usually just comes to a host country and builds a world-class facility for their team which they completely control. They eventually just abandon that TBC after the World Cup and don’t care about the cost. England, one of Panama’s first opponents will be training in St. Petersburg, selected because they can take over an entire hotel, concentrate on the peace and quiet of the area and train without distraction. It may take them a little longer to fly to their competitions, but their players will be well-rested and ready to perform.
I believe in Panama and am beyond excited for the World Cup. To say I am anxious about posting reports about the happenings in Russia would certainly be an understatement. If you want to make sure you know every time I post a report, sign up for my newsletter so I can make sure you are regularly alerted.