It's a penalty! No, the ball touched the hand of the attacker! No, it was neither and the result is a goal! No, it wasn't a goal. No way. Replays showed it! The outcome of Panama's extremely controversial win over Costa Rica in the last qualification match of the CONCACAF playoff might lead to the most important development in world football: The necessity of goal-line technology in each and every match, as well as officials' ability to use instant reply.
But that's for the future. None of it really matters to the 3.3 million citizens of the Republic of Panama, who saw their team qualify for the 2018 World Cup Russia for the very first time in its history.
There is really no past to Panama's national team. Until Russia 2018, the team did not enter or did not qualify for past World Cup tournaments. There is no past superstar to tell about and Panama's local teams are not considered to be among South America's leading teams. The average reader only needs to look at the list of teams playing in Panama's first division, called The Liga Panamena de Futbol (Panamanian Football League) and asks himself if he has seen the list before: Alianza F.C., Atleico Chiriqui, Atletico Veraquense, CD Arabe Unido and so on. Nothing looks familiar here. It might be because, among others, the first division was established only in 1988 by a group of local people and ever since, local clubs suffer from poor infrastructure, players get very low salaries and spectators don’t really come to games by the thousands. This is Panama, for crying out loud, where baseball is much more popular than football.
Panama's lack of football success may also lay in its geographical surroundings: The country is located in the most southern tip of Latin America, sandwiched between Colombia to the south and Costa Rica to the north. Colombia has produced a long list of fine players, Costa Rica did it every now and then. And Panama? It is mostly known for two things – the Panama Canal and former president tuned prisoner Manuel Noriega.
It all changed on an October evening in 2017, when Gabriel Torres seemingly forced the ball into Costa Rica's goal and equaled the score 1-1. And at the 87th minute came Roman Torres and actually scored the winning goal, giving Panama a 2-1 win and sending the country into a frenzy.
President Juan Carlos Valera declared the following day to be a holiday, going on twitter and saying: "The voice of the people has been heard celebrate Panama's historic day. Tomorrow will be a national holiday."
Panama's most caped player is Gabriel Gomez, who has put on the national team shirt 140 times and counting. Its top goal scorer is Luis Tejada, who scored 43 goals in 104 appearances. The team plays its home game in the 45,000 seat Estadio Rommel Fernandez in Panama City.
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