Panama forward Luis Tejada (left) and head coach Hernan Dario Gomez (right) speak at half-time of the Copa America Centenario play-in match against visiting Cuba on January 8, 2016, in Panama City. (Photo: Mexsport)
PANAMA CITY, Panama – The 2016 Copa America Centenario promises to be a once-in-a-lifetime competition. For Panama and its head coach Hernan Dario Gomez, the opportunity to be among CONCACAF’s six representatives in the 16-team field was one it could not miss.
The urgency to succeed was clearly communicated by the 59-year-old Colombian to his players and they responded splendidly. On Friday, the Canaleros booked their ticket thanks to a 4-0 win over visiting Cuba in front of 15,696 fans at the Estadio Rommel Fernandez.
“When I spoke with my players, I told them that I have spent 26 years coaching and this was the most important match of my life,” said Gomez. “For them, it was going to be historic because it is qualification for a beautiful tournament of esteem. I told them to play with order and it went well.”
From effort and commitment perspectives, the former Guatemala manager drew a correlation between the play-in against Cuba and the World Cup qualifier with visiting Costa Rica on November 17. The exception was that on this occasion, Panama came out on the winning end, unlike the 2-1 loss against the rival Ticos.
“This job was more or less like the Costa Rica game, but this time the result was good,” Gomez quipped.
Now the hard work starts.
In March, the Panamanians have a pair of World Cup qualifiers against Haiti, which also sealed a Copa America Centenario place with a 1-0 win over Trinidad & Tobago in another play-in game.
First, though, a friendly at 2015 Copa America champion Chile awaits on February 2, a non-FIFA match date. This means that new faces could see action, especially since clubs are under no obligation to release their players.
“This base cannot be used more because the players are going to their teams,” finished Gomez. “You have to have other players to start the new training cycles once again.”