GUATEMALA CITY -- These days, there's a certain sparkle in Jaime Penedo's eye that is especially evident the moment the Panamanian national team is mentioned.
That nation's No. 1 goalkeeper has a lot on his plate these days, for his country and his club team -- Municipal -- which is entrenched in a battle to qualify for the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League. But it's clear that Penedo pays particular attention to conversation about Panama, specifically the chances of helping to carry that small Central American nation to its first-ever World Cup.
"In a few words, Professor Jorge [Dely Valdes] has made us believe the story," Penedo told CONCACAF.com, on the eve of his club team's CONCACAF Champions League showdown with Panamanian side Chorrillo in Guatemala City."Now we have nine points and we have a very nice chance to qualify.
"I say possibility because we still have two games left, against Honduras at home and then against Cuba, but we know that with one win we're in the hexagonal, where we want to be."
The final round in the CONCACAF region is an intermediate goal for Penedo and his country, though. As a nation, Panama has its collective eyes firmly set on a top three finish in the hexagonal, and the ticket that it would bring to Brazil 2014.
If the Central American nation of just two million can dream of such heights, it's all down to the improvement the national team and the Panamanian game, in general, have demonstrated over the past decade.A huge part of that progress has come through a golden generation backstopped by Penedo, the goalkeeper who came up through the local ranks of Plaza Amador and Arabe Unido.
Debuting with the national team in 2003, Penedo has been a regular between the pipes for Panama for nearly a decade now.Known for consistency and hard work, the netminder credits stints in some of the world's top leagues -- he moved to Italy in 2005 and also spent time in Spain before settling in at Municipal-- with his continuing rise towards the top of the international game.
"I like to watch what the elite international players do," he explained, after putting in an extra session in the weight room -- just a day after going 90 minutes in a shutout win in the local championship."Their philosophy is always the same. When you win, that's when you have to work even harder.
"It's no time to rest."
That attitude has helped win laurels for Penedo as one of the top goalkeepers in all of Central America.But much of his success can be traced back to finding an adoptive home in Guatemala, after two years as a backup in Europe.On the books at Cagliari in Serie A, before featuring regularly for Osasuna's B-team in Spain, he arrived in Guatemala in 2007 to seize the reigns of the Municipal defense.
Penedo hasn't let go since, leading the Rojos to four titles and nine finals over the past five seasons.And while Guatemalan teams seldom use one of their precious foreigner spots on a goalkeeper, the fit has been a perfect one for team and player, since the Panama City native epitomizes the club's working class mantra.
"When it's time to play, I have many philosophies," the goalkeeper explained."I'm happy because God has always put me in the right place, and now I'm in the team known as the team of the people.
"So when we win, and I've seen this, with a Municipal victory you can help someone, a fan of the Rojos, forget some problem he may have at that moment, even if it's just for a minute.I think that's a great privilege and a blessing, and it's one of the main reasons why I take the field."
Penedo's hard work and the good fit at Municipal have led to regular success in the Guatemalan league.The Rojos won the 2011 Apertura title, and followed that up with a close second in the spring of 2012, losing out on the title to Xelajú after a penalty shootout.
Those successes behind them, Penedo and his club are now eager to consolidate their run with international success through the CONCACAF Champions League.
"We're eager to face the big challenge of qualifying for the next round of the ConcaChampions," he said."We know it's complicated, but I have a very personal philosophy: We know that when things are complicated that's when you have to work a little harder to make them a little easier."
The next chance for the goalkeeper and his teammates to put that philosophy in action comes Thursday at Estadio Mateo Flores in Guatemala City, where the Rojos host Chorrillo, visitors from Penedo's native land.Municipal could make things a lot easier for themselves in Group 7 with a win, which would send them on a visit to group leader Monterrey next week with the hope of advancing still in tact.
Whatever the outcome of the Champions League matches over the next week, though, this could prove a definitive round of games for the legacy of the long-time Municipal goalkeeper.His contract runs out next year, and Penedo says he's unsure how much longer he'll continue to don the jersey of Gautemala's most laurelled team.
"I never rate myself, I leave that up to the journalists," Penedo said."With the team, we've made it to nine finals.We've won four and lost five. I think the cycle has been successful. But in the end it's just a cycle. I'm 30 years old, I want to continue to give my all, but in the end you never know what's around the corner."
Given the hard work and positive attitude Penedo brings to the table every time he steps on the field, whatever waits around the corner promises to be big, for both Penedo and the national team he represents.