After reaching the Gold Cup final in 2005, Panama fell short of equaling their effort from last Gold Cup and fell to the United States 2-1 in a quarterfinal match on Saturday. Panama refused to give up, though, and were pressuring the U.S. goal steadily the last quarter-hour of the match.
Panama looks poised to be a tricky if not dangerous side come World Cup qualifying but while the '05 showed promise, it hardly delivered in the hexagonal. The U.S., for instance, handled Panama twice, 3-0 in Panama and 2-0 here when all was said and done.
The canaleros have some strong players to build around such as Blas Perez (Cucuta, Colombia), Jaime Penedo (Osasuna, Spain) and Felipe Baloy (Monterrey, Mexico). Like Guatemala, the key for Panama is the coach. Alexandre Guimaraes led Costa Rica to the last two World Cups, the first time ever that Costa Rica qualified for two consecutive World Cup finals.
Like Guatemalan counterpart Hernan Dario Gomez, Guimaraes needs to prepare the squad the best way possible before World Cup qualifying starts. The players showed some strong physical characteristics during their participation in the tournament and played hard against the U.S. in the quarterfinal. Another run to the final could have benefited Panama tremendously for it would have given this team a chance to compete in high-pressure situations but that was not meant to be.
If Panama reaches the hexagonal in 2009, it will have been because of a strong and focused effort from this point forward. If not, the team will have wasted the small steps Panama has taken since 2004.