Panama aims to impress in their first World Cup tournament against a deadly Belgium squad.
For a newcomer to the tournament, playing a squad boasting the number 3 FIFA ranking in the world seems like a bad draw. But as one of the biggest underdogs in the entire tournament, Panama has an opportunity to shock the world right out of the gate. A Belgium squad that has underperformed in past tournaments will hope to right the ship and start their group play off with a resounding win, as Mexico did against Germany.
Belgium is coming off a quarterfinal finish in 2014 and will look to improve upon that mark against an ageing Panama squad. Despite injuries to Vincent Kompany and Vermaelen, head coach Roberto Martinez feels comfortable with his talented roster heading into the 2018 tournament and aims to continue the success the squad has had throughout the UEFA qualifiers.
As one of the first teams to qualify, Belgium scored 43 goals and tied Germany as the leading goal scorers and were one of four teams to remain unbeaten. Panama’s ageing roster and lack of success in the qualifiers should give a hint as to the fate of their squad, as no Panama player scored more than two goals in the qualifiers.
Panama was able to qualify for Russia despite a negative goal differential of -1. Head coach Hernan Dario Gomez will need to figure out a way to slow down Belgium’s attack before his squad are embarrassed in their debut.
Despite his injuries, Roberto Martinez has a fair reason to feel optimistic heading into Group G with a talented roster. Midfielder Kevin De Bruyne will orchestrate Belgium’s offense alongside Chelsea star Eden Hazard. They will both support forward Romelo Lukaku and provide him the service he needs to find holes in the defense. The squad seems primed to find the back of the net early and often.
With England waiting for them in the final group game, Belgium will need to score many goals to stay atop the group and compete in goal differential with the English. Panama captain Torres has recovered from a hamstring injury and will need the support of players like Gabriel Torres and Blas Perez if his squad wants a fighting chance.
Despite losing to Denmark, Switzerland and Norway in their warm-up matches, Panama should still find solace that they’ve made the tournament and will hope that belief and pride can keep them alive amongst some fierce competition. Their goal differential will have to improve if they wish to succeed, but beating Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois won’t be easy.
Panama head coach Hernan Dario Gomez is heading into his third World Cup with his third different team. The manager took Colombia to the tournament in 1998 and Ecuador in 2002, with both teams exiting in the group stage. Gomez will be hoping that the third visit is the charm.