Panama’s Gomez looks to make most of Copa Centroamericana

Panama head coach Hernan Dario Gomez (pictured) will be looking to guide the host nation to the 2017 Copa Centroamericana title this month. (Photo: Adid Jimenez/Straffon Images)

PANAMA CITY, Panama – As host nation, expectations are high for Panama ahead of its 2017 Copa Centroamericana opener on January 13 against Belize. After all, a regional bragging rights and a seventh consecutive trip to the CONCACAF Gold Cup are at stake.

But pressure to deliver the nation’s first title since 2009 isn’t affecting head coach Hernan Dario Gomez, who is eager for the tournament’s start and is hoping that it has numerous benefits, including those that will boost his team’s 2018 World Cup Qualifying campaign.

“I like the tournament because we are going to play five matches, regardless if we are champions or not,” said Gomez. “This tournament is like all national team matches. It’s really important, with the necessity to be able to culminate it in the best way, fighting for the title without taking away the priority, which, I repeat, is World Cup Qualifying. But the national team has to face this in the best way and look for the title.”

On Thursday, the 60-year-old Colombian had a chance to experiment in a 1-1 draw with Panamanian first-division side club San Francisco during an 80-minute scrimmage. Saprissa forward Rolando Blackburn scored for a Canalero side that used a blend of experience and those looking to make an international mark.

Veterans such as midfielders Armando Cooper (77 caps), Aníbal Godoy (67) and Alberto Quintero (77 caps) lined up alongside goalkeeper Erick Hughes (none), Michael Murillo (5) and Azmahar Ariano (1).

Overall, Gomez is feeling confident with how the team is coming together.

“There have been losses since some players have not been loaned, but within what we intend to work on with other players who have the chance to be starters and to command, the team is good,” he concluded.