Panama coach Hernan Dario Gomez isn’t in the business of sugarcoating the truth before his team makes history by playing in its first World Cup.
The Central American team has trouble scoring and his players will need to have a good day to have any chance against Belgium today, he said.
Blunt and honest, Gomez didn’t even hide his starting lineup, the normal way of doing things for coaches these days. And when asked if Panama could repeat Iceland’s upset against Argentina — the teams drew 1-1 on Saturday — the Colombian didn’t bother picking the right words when downplaying the Argentine squad.
“Iceland sent Croatia to the play-offs (in European qualifying), and did well in the European Championship as well,” Gomez said. “It played against an Argentina squad which isn’t at the same level as Belgium right now.
“I mean, the distance between Iceland and Argentina isn’t as significant as the distance between Belgium and Panama.”
Gomez didn’t completely dismiss Panama’s chances of a surprise result against the Belgians, saying “anything can happen in football,” but admitted it wouldn’t be normal.
“It’s very clear that they are the favourites,” the 68-year-old coach said. “But each game is different, and if we have a good day, maybe we can achieve something.”
Gomez didn’t bother keeping his lineup a secret for the match in Sochi, naming the 11 starters without hesitating when asked. He even frankly talked about the formation his team would be playing today.
Gomez said Panama won’t be trying anything but defending against the talented Belgians, and admitted that scoring goals has been a weakness of his team entering the tournament.
“We’ve become strong on defence. It’s Panama’s virtue,” he said. “Panama isn’t a team that will score a lot of goals.
“We may create good chances in some matches, but we aren’t able to score. We arrive at the World Cup with problems scoring the goals.”
The 55th-ranked Panama drew 0-0 with Northern Ireland and lost 1-0 to Norway in its final warm-up matches before traveling to Russia.
It qualified for the tournament by finishing ahead of the United States in CONCACAF thanks to a last-minute victory over Costa Rica in qualifying.
Gomez said the team carries a big responsibility in representing the nation at a World Cup for the first time, and his biggest job is to get the players ready for the pressure they are about to face.
“The whole country is excited about this,” Gomez said. “I have to prepare the players mentally.”
Meanwhile, Belgium will keep Manchester City defender Vincent Kompany on the 23-man squad for the World Cup even though he is unlikely to be ready for today’s opening day.
Belgium coach Roberto Martinez said yesterday there would not be any squad call-ups ahead of yesterday’s deadline to make any changes.
Kompany injured his groin in a friendly against Portugal this month and the Red Devils added Laurent Ciman to their camp as a precaution. Ciman was sent back to Brussels on Saturday to await final word on Kompany’s status.
Martinez said Kompany may yet appear in the group stage and that his experience is important to have around the squad.
“Vinny has evolved better than we thought. Even though we thought he’d have a good opportunity to be involved in the group phase I think now he’s not got a stronger opportunity,”
Belgium also had injury concerns around defender Thomas Vermaelen, but he could be available as early as the second group game against Tunisia.
Vermaelen remained in Moscow to rehab his hamstring injury while the team was in Sochi having been injured late in the club season with Barcelona.
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