MOSCOW, June 24, 2018 – The World Cup in Russia is underway, and Panama has just one more group match left to conclude its first ever World Cup journey. A 6-1 loss to England on Sunday confirmed their elimination from the global showpiece but Panama can still hold their heads up high in spite of being winless after two matches. Panamanian Football Association General Secretary Vaccaro Eduardo during this interview with Tencent Sports said, “I believe that our team can surprise the world with how united we are and our fighting spirit.”
Tencent Sports: Could you please describe the development of Panamanian football? For example, the number of registered players and clubs.
Eduardo: Panama has two football leagues. The top division has ten clubs, and the second division has 11 teams. In total, there are about 1,000 registered football players.
Tencent Sports: How many stadium are there in Panama? How are the youth development programs doing and how good are the infrastructures?
Eduardo: There are six stadiums in the country, and they were built by the government. The clubs only operate the stadiums on match days. The average attendance is about 800 fans per game. We need to build more infrastructures to serve more players on all levels.
Tencent Sports: This is the first time that Panama qualified for the World Cup. What is the secret behind this success?
Eduardo: We have been fighting for the World Cup for many years. This group of players represents the golden age of Panamanian football. Many of them play in foreign leagues. Four years ago, we almost made it to the World Cup, but we made some mistakes, especially during the game against the USA. This time, the players were making up for what they failed to accomplish last time.
Tencent Sports: In this World Cup, Panama has one of the oldest squads. What is your comment on this?
Eduardo: The players are experienced and mentally mature. They have been playing with each other for years; they unite as a family. We also have some young players. I think this is a balanced team.
Tencent Sports: What is the goal of the team in this World Cup?
Eduardo: Every team on this stage wants to win, no matter how good they are. We also want to win. Of course, we need to be realistic, and we just want to show the world who we truly are, because we are representing our nation. Everything that is about to happen is going to become our experiences.
Tencent Sports: Why did the team set its camp at Saransk? Panama is the only team here.
Eduardo: Saransk is located in the middle of the European side of Russia. The temperature and transportation here are all ideal. It is not as crowded as Moscow or St. Petersburg. We will not be disturbed and we can focus on our training.
Tencent Sports: Unfortunately, midfielder Amílcar Henríquez was murdered last year. The outsiders associate Panamanian football with drugs, crimes and poverty. Is that true?
Eduardo: This is not true. Many football stars came out of streets filled with poverty and crimes, which motivated them to fight for a better life. The murder was an accident; it does not happen very often in Panama. I believe this could happen to other professions also, so associating football with crimes does not make sense.
Tencent Sports: How well are the players paid in Panamanian football leagues?
Eduardo: Professional players are usually paid 900 to 1,000 dollars a month.
Tencent Sports: How do you think this Cinderella run of Panamanian football would change the children who love the sport in Panama?
Eduardo: Qualifying for the World Cup provided an unparalleled opportunity for changing Panamanian football. The government and sponsors would pay more attention and build more infrastructures. Football has become the biggest sport in the nation. After we qualified for the World Cup, we have partnered with a new company, and many more corporations are in similar talks. The changes are happening.