The unknown quantity heading into the 2018 FIFA World Cup, the Central American side continue their preparations with a European taste with the visit of Norther Ireland. Having beaten Trinidad and Tobago 1-0 previously, Panama will be testing the European waters with their clash with Northern Ireland, as they build up to taking on both England and Belgium in this summer’s tournament.
Having previously met with Denmark and Switzerland in 2018, Panama have enjoyed little successes so far registering a 1-0 defeat to the Danes and a 6-0 whitewash against the Swiss in their preparations.
In a squad stretched in the South American walls of the footballing sphere; Panama are a group mystified in the South American game. Having qualified for the tournament via the CONCAF bracket, the Central American side finished third in their group, three points behind Costa Rica. The nation’s top goal scorers were Gabriel and Roman Torres who gathered four goals each in qualification.
Stinging from the loss to Switzerland, Northern Ireland main man Michael O’Neill insists that his side will not lose the cutting edge as he prepares for this summer’s tour across Central America. Opening up the tour with a friendly against Panama (kick off 02:00) before taking on 2014 World Cup quarter finalists Costa Rica, O’Neill insisted his side wanted to keep the momentum from their European and World Cup campaign even with the absence of competitive football this summer,
“These matches are a good challenge for us. These are two sides who are going to the World Cup. You always want to win games. This tour may be more about development, but on the flip side in the last four years we have got into a habit of winning games and we want to maintain that.
"We have nine games before the Euro qualifiers start next year considering we are missing out on the World Cup and that includes four Nations League matches. They are crucial preparation for us because outside our core group we have a lot of players who don't have that much international experience.
"We want to get as much international football into these players as possible because when the qualifiers for Euro 2020 come around these players are going to be very important for us."
With this tour the Green and White Army are ducking into the wilderness with the unknown quantities of both Costa Rica and Panama, a factor which O’Neil was keen to highlight,
"Costa Rica are a good team – their players maybe have more exposure in terms of European football than Panama. Most of the Panama players play in the MLS or South American countries and for that reason they are a bit of an unknown quantity."
In squad news; Northern Ireland have called U21 players Shayne Lavery (Everton), Jordan Thompson (Rangers) and Gavin Whyte (Crusaders) into the squad to mix with the experienced Aaron Hughes, Gareth McAuley and Jonny Evans.
Panama: Evens, Draw 2/1 Northern Ireland 11/4.
Northern Ireland 2-0 Panama.