SARANSK, Russia (Reuters) - Debutants Panama, although already eliminated from the World Cup, aim to “write a page in history” by beating fellow minnows Tunisia in the final Group G match in Saransk on Thursday.
A victory would be Panama’s first ever in a World Cup finals.
But whatever the result, the young Panama squad have learnt lessons and are already setting their sights on the next tournament in Qatar in 2022, coach Hernan Dario Gomez told reporters on the eve of the match.
Panama and Tunisia have both been at the wrong end of the biggest scoring games of Russia 2018, with Panama being thumped 6-1 by England and Tunisia going down 5-2 to Belgium.
The Central Americans also lost 3-0 to Belgium, giving them the worst goals against record of the tournament.
The two European teams play each other on Thursday with both having already qualified.
But an upbeat Gomez made clear that “Los Canaleros” would still give it their all against their North African opponents in the first-ever match between the two countries.
“We are still in the World Cup, we haven’t packed our bags yet and for us anything positive is important. To win, or even to get a point would be important for us and the whole country. We will be writing a page in the history books,” the Colombian said.
“It’s going to be tough, but not as tough as against the European teams. We are the underdog but we want to take at least one point back to Panama.”
Player Anibal Godoy echoed the sentiment.
“The last two games are in the past but we still have our football identity, our style of playing. Our attitude is excellent. We are playing for a proud finish, we want to end on a high note, we want to do something positive for our country. We have what it takes to be in the fight,” the midfielder said.
“We still have a dream to win this match”.
Gomez, nicknamed El Bolillo (The Truncheon), has previous experience at the finals, having coached his native Colombia in 1998 and Ecuador in 2002.
The Panamanians, however, had learnt a lot both on and off the pitch, not just in playing the matches but also in how things are handled logistically, both men stressed.
“Our opponents taught us a lot and the lads learnt a lot. We’ve learnt how to be more organised. When you finish a game 6-1, that teaches you a lesson,” Godoy said.
“We hope we can come back to the next World Cup in Qatar stronger. On the world stage we are still newbies and finding out how the World Cup is organised. There are many things we take home with us and that will be good for our growth.”
Reporting by Angus MacSwan; Editing by Neil Robinson