Panama made news around the world after their second game of the World Cup. While they lost 6-1 to England and were eliminated from the competition, many in the news paid attention to Panamanians celebrations, as they were ecstatic when Felipe Baloy scored the lone goal and Panama’s first ever in a World Cup. There was a lot of sympathy for this, and it’s perfectly understandable for their fans to be supportive and happy about the goal and performance the players gave. But for other CONCACAF members, including Mexico, this was far from a positive. Once again, a CONCACAF team had been exposed in the world stage, which is a big hit for the confederation.
CONCACAF is considered by many as the worst confederation in world football outside of Oceania. Even though they normally outperform AFC , the respect isn’t there for the most part, and many put them below that confederation. A lot of it is based on several strong powerhouse team in the region going to the WorldCcup and giving awful performances. A CONCACAF team, El Salvador, has the record for the worst loss in a World Cup after they lost to Hungary 10-1. El Salvador came back to only lose 1-0 against Belgium and 2-1 against defending champions Argentina, but that defeat seems to be the only memory of that El Salvador team. This Panama performance seems to be going in the same spirit. While Panama is proud of their performance, for CONCACAF it means that a team that made the World Cup over the U.S. and is a perennial Semifinal candidate to the Gold Cup was trailing 5-0 at halftime against England.
This phenom is nothing new and it really discourages the argument that CONCACAF is underrated. Honduras is one of the strongest teams in the confederation but they had gone to back to back World Cups and done poorly in both of them, with just a draw and 5 losses. This year they missed out on the World Cup in a playoff against Australia. Australia was the AFC team and they went to San Pedro Sula, one of the most feared venues for all CONCACAF countries including Mexico, and came out with a clear 0-0 draw. Then they went back home and beat them convincingly 3-1. Now, we have a Panama team that almost got a draw from Mexico at the Estadio Azteca and who beat out Honduras and the United States, go to the world stage and lose 3-0 and 6-1.
In a World Cup that has been very competitive, Panama are one of the favorites to finish in last place. The question now is why are these teams so tough for Mexico to beat and so easy for European teams? Part of it is the neutral venue, but it’s not like they aren’t tough to beat in Mexico home games in Mexico and the United States. It would be nice if they could bring the spirit they usually show against Mexico to the world stage. Hopefully, Panama pulls it together, but it seems that for another 4 years, we will hear the argument “You’re only there because you have to go through CONCACAF’s qualifying”. And once again, it will be tough to argue against it.