Panama's Ismael Diaz (pictured) has taken to his goalscoring talents to Portugal's FC Porto. (Photo: Mexsport)
KANSAS CITY, Kansas – A great story emanating from Panama’s impressive development as a football nation has been the emergence of Ismael Diaz, one of region’s brightest and youngest stars.
The 18-year-old forward, who made his professional debut more than three years ago with Tauro, was expected to spearhead the Panamanian attack at the 2015 CONCACAF Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship (CMOQ).
“For our small country like ours, the importance of a player like Ismael Diaz is very high,” said Panama head coach Leonardo Pipino.
The degree of his significance has been made more apparent by the fact that Diaz did not make the trip to the United States for the confederation event in order to stay with his new club – European power FC Porto.
His absence has been noticeable for a team that produced numerous scoring chances in its first two CMOQ games, but notched only two goals. There is little doubt among observers here that Diaz would have found the back of the net on more than a few occasions, positioning the Canaleros for better than the single point it has acquired thus far.
“Anybody who knows the way that he plays knows that his percentage of chances to goals converted is very high,” Pipino noted. “In fact, he’s been at Porto three weeks scoring goals.”
Despite his relative youth, the two-time capped Diaz has been a known quantity for many years in international football circles. He scored nine goals in CONCACAF under-20 play over the last 16 months (5 in Central American qualifying, 4 in CONCACAF finals) and has already competed in the 2013 FIFA Under-17 and 2015 FIFA Under-20 World Cups.
“[Diaz’s] absence impacts us because we are a small country of three million people,” finished Pipino. “We can’t choose players the way the U.S., Mexico or Canada does.”
However, with or without Diaz, Panama still hopes to capture victories like its northern counterparts.