May 24 (Reuters) - Factbox on the Panama national team ahead of the 2018 World Cup:
FIFA Ranking: 55 (till June 7)
Panama will be making their debut at the World Cup finals. They first entered the World Cup qualifiers for the 1978 tournament in Argentina.
Hernan Dario Gomez: The 62-year-old has qualified Panama for their first World Cup, repeating a feat he achieved with Ecuador in 2002. He will be coaching at his third finals having also led his native Colombia in 1998. Gomez had a second stint with Colombia in 2011 but resigned after only four months following an incident in which he hit a woman in a bar. A defensive midfielder in his playing days, Gomez was also assistant to Francisco Maturana when Colombia played at the 1990 and 1994 World Cups and has also coached Guatemala.
Gabriel Gomez: Defensive midfielder who has won more than 140 caps since his debut in 2004. He has played in four World Cup qualifying competitions and seven CONCACAF Gold Cup tournaments. The 33-year-old’s club career has taken him to Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, the United States, Portugal and Cyprus and his current side, Colombia’s Atletico Bucaramanga, is the 18th of his remarkable career.
Roman Torres: The dreadlocked defender is the linchpin of the defence and became Panama’s unlikely hero when he scored the last minute goal that took them to the World Cup finals at the expense of the United States and Honduras. The 32-year-old, who was sidelined for most of the 2016 season with a cruciate ligament injury, has won more than 100 caps. He spent most of his club career in Colombia before joining Seattle Sounders in 2015.
Alberto Quintero: In a side based on tactical organisation, hard work and defensive solidity, the 28-year-old Quintero, usually to be found on the right of the midfield, is the main creative influence. He is already approaching his 100th cap but, despite his international experience, his club career has been a mixed bag which has taken him to Major League Soccer but also the Mexican second division. He currently plays for Universitario in Peru.
Panama have struggled in friendlies since qualifying for the World Cup, losing to Iran and Denmark by single goals, drawing with Wales and being thumped 6-0 by Switzerland. They did manage wins in low-key friendlies against Grenada and Trinidad. Panama reached the quarter-finals of the Gold Cup last year before losing 1-0 to Costa Rica. Their last 10 competitive internationals have produced four wins, three draws and three defeats.
How they qualified:
Panama finished third out of six in the final stage of the CONCACAF qualifiers thanks to a controversial 2-1 win over Costa Rica in their last game. Defender Torres scored an 88th-minute winner. However, replays of Blas Perez’s equaliser early in the second half clearly showed that the ball did not cross the line. The win meant they finished ahead of Honduras on goal difference and leapfrogged the United States who, having beaten Panama 4-0 three days earlier, were eliminated after a 2-1 defeat in Trinidad.
Drawn in Group G, Panama will be thrown in at the deep end by facing Belgium in their opening game. They then face England and finally Tunisia. Coach Hernan Dario Gomez admits that his team are rank outsiders and that he would be happy with a single victory. Should they pull off a sensation and qualify, then Gomez’s native Colombia would be among their potential opponents in the last 16. (Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Peter Rutherford )