World Cup Preview: Panama v Tunisia

Who? Panama - Tunisia
Where? Mordovia Arena, Saransk
When? June 28, 20:00 (CET local time)

Panama (Yossi Medina)

Panama just conceded six from England and nine in the whole tournament. In their first two matches they tried, but in the end they were far from the competitive level of their opponents. Yet, Panama presented during the game against England a name that everyone will know – Felipe Baloy.

He is not young as many in this World Cup, but since Sunday, Baloy will have eternal life as the first World Cup goalscorer of Panama. It's not obvious, because Baloy is actually playing as a defender. In the age of 37, Baloy find an international recognition.

During his career he played at the places that nobody think about. Except from playing in his home nation, he had short spells in Colombia and Brazil, before he arrived to Mexico. He spent more than a decade there and won two Mexican titles with Monterrey and Santos Laguna.

As Panama national team player he played in four Gold Cups. At his first campaign in 2005 he was part from a team that reached all the way to the historic final against USA. In the final, Panama couldn't handle USA and lost in penalty shooutout 1:3, as Baloy was the only player of Panama that converted his kick.

With a long history, Felipe Baloy is now part of another great moment for his nation. Panama is defeated, but still proud. Now they will face their last challenge – winning in the World Cup for the first time.

Tunisia (Uri Levy)

The final game of the group stage is taking place in one of the most rare cities the World Cup ever took place at - Saransk. Saransk is a city of around 330,000 habitants in Mordovia, a county in the eastern part of Russia. In series of articles before the World Cup, the English Independent described Saransk as ‘Strange’, mentioning that the city has no club in Russina Premier League, and highlighted the unpleasant past of the city as a Gulag centre. For Soviet Russia’s dissident movement, Mordovia was instantly associated with the Gulag. The first camps appeared there as early as the 1930s; for a while after 1960 it the only region housing “dangerous” political enemies of the Soviet state. With this cargo, Saransk will host one of the last matches of this World Cup group stage - Tunisia against Panama.

The Tunisians are already eliminated, but among the four Arab representatives she probably impressed the most. Gave a great fight to England, lost with pride & style against Belgium and all is left is to grab a first World Cup victory since 1978, against tiny but lovely Panama.

For the Tunisians this World Cup wouldn’t be entitled as a great success, but coach Nabil Maaloul has told the media that the effort that the players have put in to the trainings and games has nothing but make the Tunisian people proud. After losing its two stars, bringing in young or anonymous replacement - the Tunisians has managed to score three goals and did not broke apart against European rivals like Egypt or Saudi Arabia.

A victory in Saransk and it might count as a good tournament for the Carthage Eagles, and they will be remembered as the team who had no fear, despite the odds that were against them. But if they lose, nobody will remember the good minutes against England or Belgium. They will forever be those who arranged the Panamanians their first ever victory in the competition. The ball is in their legs.

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World Cup Preview: England v Panama

Who? England - Panama
Where? Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Nizhny Novgorod
When? June 24, 14:00 (CET local time)


It was a matter of a few seconds between England and opening the World Cup with an upset. The game against Tunisia, even though they eventually managed to win, was not one of their best games and England would like to recover against Panama.

If you will read some of the comments in England, you will find a new name that becomes the talented player to be pumped by the press. Harry Maguire, Leicester City's defender is that guy. His work against Tunisia was impressive, but in England you don't need too much time in order to be the hero that will save the nation's day.

In the game against Panama, England will face an interesting challenge, as they will try to win their second consecutive match for the first time since 2006 World Cup. At the last World Cup, England managed to have only one win out of seven matches. Another unbelievable record will be the fact that England didn't manage to win twice at the World Cup group stage since 1998.

In this situation, England cannot afford themselves a failure against Panama. With six points in the first two matches, England could take a deep breath and feel more comfortable for the next stages.


Nobody thought that Panama can be a strong opponent to Belgium. Even though they managed to keep a clean sheet during the first half and didn't fail completely until Lukaku's brace, the final score didn't surprised anyone.

Now everyone looks on Hernán Darío Gómez. The veteran Colombian coach faces England once again in the World Cup. In 1998, Gómez was Colombia's head coach while Los Cafeteros lost 0:2 to England, while Darren Anderton and David Beckham led England to the next stage.

The beginning for Panama was hard, but now, after they felt once what it means to play a World Cup game, they may be less stressed or excited. The tears of joy that has been seen during the national anthem in the previous match will disappear and Gómez will need to guide his players to an optimistic moment.

Although Panama is considered as the weakest team in the World Cup, they can't afford another bad result. They want to show to the world that they are still can to be competitive, even against strong team like England. If Tunisia managed to be until the additional time equaled, why wouldn't Panama do the same?

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World Cup Preview: Belgium v Panama

Who? Belgium - Panama
Where? Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi
When? June 18, 17:00 (CET local time)


The Belgian golden generation is keeping its journey through the major tournament. After reaching both last World Cup and Euro quarterfinals, Belgium wants to do more in their 13th appearance. Their kickoff match against Panama is expected to be a good stage for their first match.

Belgium has been changed in the recent years, as their former manager Marc Wilmots was replaced by the Spanish Roberto Martinez. Under his guidance, Belgium lost only once in 19 games and the confidence level is high. In the back of the scenes, Belgium have another special addition, the assistant manager, Thierry Henry. If someone in Belgium believes in reaching the later stages, Henry can add some of his experience.

As most of the leading Belgian players play for the biggest clubs in Europe, there is one player that his ability is currently in doubt. It is common to think that Axel Witsel prefered his comfort instead of playing in high levels. After years in Russia, Witsel joined the Chinese club Tianjin Quanjian in the last season.

In such a talented squad, it is almost unclear whether Witsel is worth a place in the Belgium lineup or even in the squad. For Witsel, this World Cup will be almost a last chance to prove his criticizers that he is still good enough as he was few years ago.


In its debut appearance, Panama are already making headlines. According to FIFA data, Román Torres is the heaviest player in the World Cup with a weight of 99 kilograms. Earlier this week, a journalist asked kindly for his comment about this issue. His answer was simple - he stood up and revealed his belly, an act that became viral immediately.

Panama is one of the weakest teams in this tournament. No one really gave them a chance to qualify, but a crazy final matchday in CONCACAF hexagonal ended with the historic ticket to Russia. Now, with Belgium and England in the group, Panama are really minnows in World Cup terms.

Although for most of the readers their players are maybe anonymous, they are bringing massive number of caps and international experience. In the squad you can find 9 players at their 30's, 6 of them made also an impressive number of at least 100 caps.

Panama will bring a decent number of fans that will follow their team in this moment. As a Latin nation, we can believe that they will bring the cheering sound at its best. If you want to understand how enthusiastic they are, recall their last qualifiers match. During this game, one fan has deliberately invaded the pitch in order to prevent a goal against the team.

With these interesting stories, Panama will bring more than football the tournament. No matter if Panama could or couldn't to play well, at least we will have a lot of good reasons to enjoy.

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