Panama’s Jaime Penedo in dreamland and ready to dance with England

first_imgWhen the final whistle blew in the Estadio Rommel Fernández to confirm their World Cup passage thanks to a 2-1 win against Costa Rica, an impromptu nationwide street party began across Panama. The emotional release was the culmination of decades of work for both the small Central American nation and their goalkeeper, Jaime Penedo.The well-travelled 36-year-old is the nation’s most experienced player, earning 130 caps in a 15-year international career. Football in Panama does not lend itself to creating top-class footballers, so Penedo has spent time at Osasuna, LA Galaxy and now Dinamo Bucharest but his proudest moments will come in Russia in games against England, Belgium and Tunisia. interviews World Cup As part of a developing football nation, Penedo is excited about playing England. “It’s going to be an incredible match, for us it’s going to be amazing, a dream. They’ve won the World Cup and we have not played in it yet,” he says. “I am not afraid. Most of all, I am excited. I have always dreamed of playing the likes of England, Germany, France, Spain and Brazil. They are the rivals one dreams of playing as a kid. So now I’ve made it to the World Cup, why not dance with them?”Penedo may turn out to be the busiest player during the group stage but the goalkeeper feels qualifying for Russia is sufficient for a man who, when he was growing up, never felt he would have the chance to play on the biggest stage.“I realise that getting to the World Cup is the ‘easy’ part, the hard part is coming now. Going to the World Cup gives you the opportunity to go into another dimension, another football planet for us. We played against Iraq and Wales, and we know we need to prepare well. I cannot say if Panama aims to get to the second phase but I always set some goals and I want to earn some points in the World Cup and hopefully those will help us get some kind of result.” Share on WhatsApp 8:40 World Cup 2018: complete guide to all 736 players Qualification was achieved with the help of a ghost goal in their final Concacaf game against Costa Rica, with many in the Panama team expecting a play-off to decide their fate. But Gabriel Torres’s shot which went wide was mysteriously awarded by the referee. Penedo has spent long enough in football to know you have to accept any breaks that come your way, and morals can be left behind when your dreams come true. Panama were not too concerned by the error.“Everyone’s reaction was total ecstasy, it was incredible. Our players could not believe the manner that we did it. We knew that against Costa Rica we had to win but that we would most likely go to the play‑offs, a very difficult play-off against Australia, but things went our way, the USA lost against Trinidad & Tobago, so we qualified direct.“It was incredible, as you can imagine, fighting for so long, for a World Cup qualification that, for me, I think it is the greatest thing that’s happened to me in football and to have achieved it at my last opportunity. For the country and the fans it was a joy that had been building up for decades and they could release that desire to celebrate the qualification.”As a youth, football was not the mainstream sport it has become in Panama. Penedo has played his part by taking Panamanian football abroad and coming back to help the national team. Other Panama players are based in Belgium, the US and Slovakia but Penedo is by far the most experienced in the squad. “Panamanian football has changed a lot, a number of players have dared to leave, to go abroad. That has opened doors so Panamanian football can reach a new level and achieve new things. There is still a very large gap between the national team and the domestic league; the league still needs to develop. I still think that the local league does not reflect the results of the national team.“Some of the players have been the same for 12 years, others have joined more recently, with the key players having gone abroad and stayed abroad. They might not be in the elite leagues but leaving Panama is always going to be better.“Soccer is now very important in our country. When I started playing, football was not the No 1 sport in our country, it was behind boxing and baseball. The World Cup has raised the passion and now the football has taken on a lot more importance in Panama. People love it.”Penedo’s first experience outside Panama was a move to Osasuna in Spain where he played for the B team but he almost left for the Italian side Cagliari. It was a realisation of how far he would need to go to become an international goalkeeper and a sign of how far Panamanian football has come over the past 15 years. “When I started playing soccer in Panama, football was practically semi-professional. When I played in the first division, I knew I had to make the jump directly to Europe. I went to Italy for a tournament with the national team where the president of Cagliari liked my game a lot but the reality was that going from Panama to Europe was light years, I wasn’t ready physically or mentally. I had good attributes such as good reaction, good speed but in Panama I had never worked at it, it was too drastic a change, too hard and the reality is that in Europe there is no time to be coached.“I think it would have been better to go from Panama to another intermediate league and then come to Europe. I was not prepared for that change and well, from there, then I went to Osasuna, to the B team, where more or less I could start to prepare but I had an injury that year. When I was able to recover I had to return home, that is why I always saw Europe as a great ghost, as something that I had not fulfilled, that’s why I desired to return.”Now he has exorcised that ghost, becoming a regular for two years with Dinamo Bucharest, and he wants to show what he can do under the world’s glare, but he is keenly aware Panama are the biggest underdogs in Russia.Panama may end up pointless after their three group games but Penedo believes the team’s work ethic can help surprise a few and he would be disappointed to not at least pick up a draw. “As players, we do not dazzle individually. We do very well when we play in a group, when we play together we are greater than the sum of our parts. We do not have a figure that grabs the headlines, a Messi or a Neymar. We are a team that need to stay close together and work for each other.” Share on Pinterest Share on Messenger Share via Email The Fiver: sign up and get our daily football email. Reuse this content Topics Panama Share on Twitter Play Video Panama’s World Cup journey: the former Millwall coach behind their success – video World Cup 2018 Share on LinkedIn Read more Share on Facebooklast_img read more