Why We Should All Root for Panama
The general consensus about this World Cup is that the three weakest teams in the field are Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Panama. Well, Russia are hosting, Saudi Arabia have looked promising in friendlies, and both have the benefit of playing one another in the group stage. Panama, on the other hand, will have next to zero fan support, has played horribly during the warm-ups, and has been tasked with getting past Belgium, England, and Tunisia. Sure, its not the hardest group ever, but Panama will have their work cut out for them in their World Cup debut.
The oddsmakers have Panama at 9 to 1 to even advance beyond the group stage, the lowest in the tournament. To win the whole thing? 1000 to 1. Keep dreaming, Panama fans.
So out of the little guys, Panama are the littlest of all. If you’re not familiar with Panama, here’s the best way for me to describe the team: Imagine Egypt but all the players are a notch worse, and instead of international superstar Mo Salah they’ve got Roman Torres, a good but not outstanding MLS player. Yeah, it’s not good. Coach Hernan Dario Gomez has summoned players from all over Central America, the Belgian Reserves, the Ascenso MX, and MLS to make the trip to Russia, where Panama will struggle to fight for even a single point.
But this is what the World Cup is all about, right? The best in the world are a joy to watch, but the cinderella stories of teams who are sometimes comically outmatched can be just as compelling. And that’s Panama’s story in a nutshell. They’re just happy to be here.
But that doesn’t mean Los Canaleros have no chance. Tunisia are among the worst teams in the tournament and England have a long history of completely blowing it against lower-prestige sides. A win against the North Africans and a draw with the English just might be enough to see Panama through to the knockout stage; though it’s a longshot to say the least.
Neutral fans often pass over teams like Panama; they either want to root for contenders like Brazil, or teams with electrifying stars like Egypt. Some choose underdogs, but always a team like Senegal, who we know have the potential to make a deep run if they play well. Nobody wants to root for Panama, who will, in all likelihood, play three ugly games in the group stage and then be out of everyone’s memory the moment the group phase ends.
Iceland, the only other team making their debut at this World Cup, have been hailed by the media from the jump as the darlings of the tournament who will need to overcome all odds to succeed. Now, no shots at Iceland, but that’s not really a true narrative. Iceland have proven themselves to be a capable team on several occasions now. Panama, on the other hand, have barely received any publicity. If we don’t support them, who will?
I think most fans take on multiple teams at the World Cup, so add Panama to your list. They’re a soccer-crazy nation on the global stage for the first time ever, they’re the ultimate underdogs in Russia, and they’ve been completely glossed over by everyone during the past few months of buildup. I say this not because they’re Concacaf, not because they’re Latin America, but because they are one of the most compelling stories of the tournament. When they go 0-3 we probably won’t remember them, but if something magic happens you’ll be real upset that you weren’t watching the game because its “just Panama.”