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Youth, experience fortify Panama’s World Cup hopes
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Panama forward Abdiel Arroyo (white jersey) has scored one goal in CONCACAF qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. (Photo: Mexsport)

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica – A youth movement has given Panama belief that it can reach the FIFA World Cup for the first time.

In a fourth-round, Group B game played Tuesday between two teams already assured of Hexagonal place, Panama started four players 23-year-old or younger in a 3-1 loss at Costa Rica.

Four days earlier, 22-year-old forward Abdiel Arroyo scored as the Canaleros sealed advancement to the CONCACAF Hexagonal by beating Jamaica, 2-0.

Head coach Hernan Dario Gomez believes that the youngsters -- and a handful of older players now gaining introduction to higher levels of the international game – will play roles in taking Panama to Russia 2018.

“There are many players that will be of help heading into the future,” Gomez after the setback San Jose. “(Defensive midfielder) Michael Murillo, (defender Luis) Ovalle, (midfielder Miguel) Camargo, (midfielder) José González, (midfielder Edgar Yoel) Barcenas, (forward Abdiel) Arroyo… in this training camp we experimented with some very important things that will help the team a lot.”

With a dynamic blend of generations, Gomez is confident that Panama is well positioned to compete for one of CONCACAF’s three automatic World Cup berths.

“I think that it is even,” the 60-year-old Colombian said of the 10-game marathon that will kick-off in November. “Panama is putting together an important team, six with experience and young players who are pushing ahead a lot. Costa Rica plays well. They have speed. They maintain the ball. 

“Mexico and the United States will always be candidates. Honduras defend and are difficult to score on. They counterattack well. Trinidad and Tobago, logically, you don’t know how they are going to come out against you and they are difficult. It’s even.”

Although advancing to the Hexagonal for the third time is a commendable accomplishment, Gomez wants Panama to take the next step.

“I am going to continue watching Panama and improving it,” he finished. “Panama will not be easy for anyone. It is a team with order. Panama has won things in order to fight. We going to see.”

 
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