March 28, 2018 / 7:51 AM / 5 months ago

Panama coach feels exposed after team 'stripped naked'

LUCERNE, Switzerland (Reuters) - Panama coach Hernan Dario Gomez was left apprehensive about his team’s prospects at the World Cup in Russia after seeing them “stripped naked” in Tuesday’s friendly against Switzerland.

Soccer Football - International Friendly - Switzerland vs Panama - Swissporarena, Luzern, Switzerland - March 27, 2018 Panama coach Hernan Dario Gomez REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

The fiery Colombian gave a frank assessment of Panama’s performance in the 6-0 defeat, saying it had left him with doubts about their chances of putting on a dignified display on their World Cup debut in June and July.

“The difference here was too much —- we were stripped naked, they exposed all our weaknesses.” he said. “We are still a long way from European football.”

The Panama side which took the field in Switzerland included five players who ply their trade in Major League Soccer and one each based in Belgium, Romania, Chile, Colombia, Peru and Honduras.

Their opponents boasted five players from the Bundesliga, one from the English Premier League, one in Serie A and one in Ligue 1, plus one each based in Croatia, Switzerland and Turkey.

If it looked like a hopeless mismatch on paper, it turned out to be just that on the pitch and Gomez refused to pull any punches afterwards with his only consolation being that it did not happen on the World Cup stage.

“It happened today against quicker, more technical, stronger opponents who were better than us in every sense,” he said.

Yet just a few months ago, the same group of players were being praised for securing a first ever World Cup appearance by finishing above the United States in the final stage of CONCACAF qualification.

GOMEZ CONFUSED

Their previous two outings against European opposition had gone relatively well with a 1-1 draw against Wales in November and a 1-0 defeat to Denmark last Thursday, with their inconsistency leaving Gomez confused.

“Are we the team that played Denmark or are we the team that played Switzerland?” he asked. “I don’t know why there was such a big change. We have to have a long hard look.”

Before the game, Gomez had spoken proudly of Panama’a achievement in qualifying for the World Cup but admitted he had not expected it to happen so quickly in a country where football lags behind baseball and basketball in popularity.

“It’s a young football country and we qualified before our time,” he said. “Panama doesn’t have a (Lionel) Messi, we don’t have a Neymar, we don’t have a Cristiano Ronaldo.”

Gomez said that the MLS players were not at their peak after the winter break, but added that was no excuse.

The Canal Men face Belgium, England and Tunisia in their World Cup group and Gomez said they needed to work hard to make sure there was no repeat in front of a worldwide audience.

“Each player has to go back to their team and work on their physical condition,” he said. “The Swiss were stronger than us and we had no answer.

“We have made a dream come true by reaching the World Cup but we still have to do well when we get there.... We have to look at what we can do to avoid this happening (in Russia).”

Editing by John O'Brien

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