Panama looks to seize Copa America opportunity

Panama assistant coach Edgar Carvajal (left) and goalkeeper Jose Calderon attend a Copa America Centenario play-in press conference at the Estadio Rommel Fernandez in Panama City, Panama, on January 7, 2016. (Photo: Mexsport)

PANAMA CITY, Panama – For Panama goalkeeper Jose Calderon, participating in the 2016 Copa America would be a dream come to true. 

Qualifying for the competition, however, will require something more tangible than just a dream. The Canaleros will have to prevail over visiting Cuba in a one-game playoff on Friday at the Estadio Rommel Fernandez.

“[The Copa América] is a very important tournament for the whole country and for us as players because it is where world class national teams play,” Calderon, 30, said at a press conference on Thursday. “The truth is that we have to think about tomorrow, get the result that we all want, trust in what we’ve worked on during this time.”

After going through an extensive training program in advance of the game, working at home prior to moving their camp to Costa Rica just after New Year’s Day, the Canaleros returned on Thursday afternoon.

Assistant coach Edgar Carvajal believes that the time together will serve the team well against the Cubans.

“We had a good preparation here in Panama wrapping up the year and it continued in Costa Rica,” he commented. “We leave the team prepared in the best way possible to be able to get to this difficult [Copa América].”

Panama has demonstrated good success over Cuba recently. In their previous encounter on August 20, 2014, the Canaleros posted a 4-0 win at the Rommel Fernandez led by Darwin Pinzon’s two goals.

The margin of victory was even greater in their last competitive meeting, when the Central Americans triumphed 6-1 in a 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinal as Gabriel Torres and Blas Perez each struck for a brace.

Carvajal cautioned that not much should be made of past results. 

“We have to be relaxed,” remarked the 46-year-old. “You have to be patient against a rival like this and not be overconfident. You cannot win before a match and tomorrow is a very important day, but logically we first have to show it on the field. 

“We must validate that we are playing at home and play good offensive football, having the tranquility to finish a match that we can make easy or difficult, depending on the performance of the players.” 

Calderon finished by simply stating: “Reaching the Copa America Centenario would be something historic for us. We have a team to beat Cuba tomorrow.” 

There’s no other choice if Panama wants to make its dream a reality.