Talented Panama pursues first U-20 World Cup win

Panama's Fidel Escobar (#6) in FIFA U-20 World Cup action against Argentina on May 31, 2015, in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo: FIFA via Getty Images)

WELLINGTON, New Zealand – Heading into the current edition of the FIFA U-20 World Cup, Panama had never won a game in four previous appearances, compiling a 0W-2D-10L record.

On evidence of the quality that the Canaleros revealed in their 2015 opener on Saturday -- a 2-2 draw with South American champion Argentina -- that streak seems ready to fall. 

The CONCACAF runner-up rallied twice from one-goal deficits, completing the scoreline in the 84th minute, when Fidel Escobar connected with a pass from Carlos Small.

“My team delivered a fantastic performance and absolutely deserved this result,” said Panama head coach Leonardo Pipino, a native of Argentina.

Anyone watching even a few minutes as Panama raced through the group stage at the 2015 CONCACAF Under-20 Championship with an unblemished (5-0-0) record would realize that this team had the potential to be special.  It is uniquely balanced throughout all sectors of the field and already seen some squad members be capped by the senior team.

Pipino, though, wants the high level of talent to be validated with a win.  Next up on Tuesday is Austria, which played Ghana to a 1-1 stalemate.

“Our objective at this World Cup in New Zealand is to win a game in this competition finally,” said the 38-year-old.  “If we continue like this, then I think we’ll have a good chance of achieving our goal.”

In its last U-20 World Cup appearance four years ago, Panama failed to score a goal, tying the Austrians, 0-0.  With two goals against Argentina, optimism is clearly in the air and success is not far around the corner.

Why does this team have the ability to break the Panamanian mold?

“We’re a solid unit and like a family, and that makes us so strong,” Pipino finished.

A win would fortify those bonds further, while signaling that the Panamanians have arrived on the world stage and don’t plan on leaving any time soon.