FIFA World Cup 2018: Panama fans hopeful about country’s football future

Considered one of the weakest teams on paper in the tournament, Panama had lost their opening Group G game 3-0 to Belgium before their 6-1 thrashing at the hands of England on Sunday sealed their fate

football Updated: Jun 26, 2018 20:59 IST
Bhargab Sarmah
Bhargab Sarmah
Hindustan Times, Nizhny Novgorod
FIFA World Cup 2018,Panama Football team,Belgium football team
A Panama fan cheers for his team at the FIFA World Cup 2018.(AFP)

World Cup debutants Panama will be heading back home at the end of the group stages after losing their opening two games at the competition but fans who have travelled to Russia have expressed hope of the tournament being able to give football a major facelift in the country in the coming years.

Considered one of the weakest teams on paper in the tournament, Panama had lost their opening Group G game 3-0 to Belgium before their 6-1 thrashing at the hands of England on Sunday sealed their fate.

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On the eve of the game against England, visiting fans from Panama filled up the city centre near the Nizhny Novgorod Kremlin.

“I am so proud and happy that Panama are here. I know we aren’t the best team in the world, so expectations aren’t very high. But this World Cup is such a huge experience for all of us. Just the fact that we are here means a lot to everyone in Panama,” said Alvin Ochoa who has arrived from Panama City to back his team.

“The hope obviously is that we can get stronger from here and qualify regularly to the World Cup,” he added.

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Javier Martinez works for a cable provider in Panama City and had to take a long leave to watch Panama in Russia. The trip has been worth it, he said.

“Baseball is the most popular sport in our country; basketball is also very popular but suddenly football has received tremendous interest because of our qualification. To be honest, I didn’t expect us to qualify for the World Cup; very few in Panama did. And if we can now work on improving things in football domestically, this World Cup, hopefully, will have a major impact on the sport in Panama,” he explained.

“I can never forget the day we qualified. The atmosphere in Panama was incredible! We just hope we can continue to have more joy from football in the coming years. This World Cup is a big experience for all of us,” said Dania Sandobal.

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Allan Sanchez, who is travelling with his group of friends, is hopeful that the Liga Panameña, the country’s top-flight, can gain from the renewed focus on the sport in Panama.

“Our league is not the strongest and most of our top players are based abroad. But the traction football has received because of this World Cup should bring some focus into our league as well. If we can improve our domestic league, we will be in an even stronger position in the coming years,” he remarked.

For now, the Panamanian contingent will just hope to soak in the festive atmosphere in Russia and hope their team can end the tournament with a positive result against Tunisia on Thursday.

First Published: Jun 26, 2018 20:59 IST