Following Monday’s dramatic win against Tunisia, England switch their attentions to Panama on Sunday as they seek to navigate their way out of Group G.
Harry Kane’s stoppage time winner in England’s opener has changed the complexion of the group and Gareth Southgate’s side will head into their second game in confident mood.
Panama managed to keep Belgium out in the first half but eventually succumbed to a 3-0 loss after Dries Mertens’ wonder-goal and a double from Romelu Lukaku, but can they fare better against England?
Here are five things you need to know about Panama…
How will they setup?
Against Belgium, Panama adopted a defensive 4-5-1 system with the aim of out-numbering Belgium in midfield and crowding them out in attack.
It was a ploy that worked reasonably well in the first half as Belgium were restricted to only three shots on target. However, Mertens broke their resistance just two minutes into the second half.
Having setup to frustrate the Belgians, they found it difficult to re-adjust and offer a greater attacking threat, although they did have one or two reasonable chances after going a goal down.
In qualifying, they often played a 4-4-2 formation and while they have tended to adopt a 4-5-1 or even 5-4-1 system against stronger sides, they should be more adventurous against England, knowing a defeat will see them exit the competition.
One issue for Panama against Belgium was the lack of a quick outlet up front offering a counter-attacking option as 37-year-old striker Blas Perez played as a lone striker.
If Panama successfully contain England for an hour or so, manager Hernán Darío Gómez may be tempted to add one of Gabriel Torres or Luis Tejada alongside Perez to give his side a greater presence in attack.
Who are their key players?
When faced with a barrage of shots, a goalkeeper can either sink or swim. Against Belgium, Jaime Penedo belonged in the latter category, making three saves to keep the scoreline respectable, including an excellent stop on the stretch to keep a Mertens half-volley out.
A cult hero at one of his former clubs LA Galaxy, Penedo is one of only five Europe-based players in the squad, plying his trade with Dinamo Bucharest, while he is also in a group of six players in the Panama squad with over a century of caps. Aged 36, he will have to use all of his experience and know-how to keep England and their in-form striker at bay…
Upon hearing that he is the heaviest player at the tournament at a pre-tournament press conference (weighing in at 99kg, no less) Roman Torres was quick to lift his shirt to display his torso to the watching journalists. If there’s one thing you can’t accuse the no-nonsense centre back of, it is lacking self-belief.
Torres is a hero in Panama for scoring the 87th minute winner against Costa Rica that qualified them for the World Cup in Russia and while he took that goal like a seasoned striker, he will be tasked with keeping Harry Kane quiet at the other end on Sunday.
In a squad full of 30-somethings, 24-year-old Edgar Barcenas is a relative novice in comparison, despite chalking up 30 international appearances to date. As well as providing some much-needed energy and running power to an ageing side, Barcenas is also the creative spark of the side.
Although he started on the right wing against Belgium, Barcenas tended to drift infield in order to get involved in the play and carved out his side’s best chance for right-back Michael Amir Murillo with a perfectly flighted ball over the top of Belgium’s three-man defence.
Who is the manager?
As is often the case when a small footballing nation defies the odds to reach a major tournament, they have had an experienced man in charge to guide them through.
Hernan Dario Gomez might not be a household name in Europe but he has a good track record in South America having taken his own country, Colombia, and Ecuador to the 1998 and 2002 World Cups, respectively.
Panama is his fifth national team job having also managed Guatemala briefly as well as Colombia for a second time in 2010-11. That stint in charge ended in disgrace when he was forced to resign after attacking a woman outside a bar.
Since taking the reigns of Panama in 2014, Gomez has won 22 of his 70 matches in charge at a win percentage rate of 31.4%. He was also named the CONCACAF Men’s Coach of the Year in 2015.
How did they qualify?
Having enjoyed a successful 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign without making the final hurdle, Panama entered the CONCACAF section at the fourth round, joining Costa Rica, Haiti and Jamaica in Group B.
In order to qualify for the six-team group in the final CONCACAF qualifying stage, they needed to finish in the top two and they did so comfortably, amassing ten points to go through behind Costa Rica in second place.
From there, they joined Mexico, USA, Honduras and Trinidad & Tobago in the final qualifying section. After seven games, Panama had just a solitary win – secured in their first match against Honduras – and barely looked in contention to qualify.
However, Roman Torres’ emphatic 87th minute strike handed them a 2-1 win over Costa Rica in their final game which coupled with USA’s 2-1 defeat to Trinidad & Tobago, sealed an automatic qualifying place.
That Costa Rica tie wasn’t without controversy, though, as veteran striker Blas Perez’s opening goal should not have stood as the ball had not crossed the line. A lack of goal-line technology came to their rescue on that occasion.
Can they beat England?
You wouldn’t have thought so judging by their defeat against Belgium, along with their results before touching down in Russia – they were beaten 6-0 by Switzerland, lost narrowly to Denmark and Norway and drew 0-0 with Northern Ireland in the months leading up to the tournament.
Their best hope will be to try and keep it goalless for as long as possible and then try and nick a goal either through a counter-attacking situation or a set-piece, when the likes of Torres and Fidel Escobar can join come forward from defence.
Of course, Panama are happy to be in Russia with this being their maiden World Cup appearance, but they will be hoping to keep their slim hopes of reaching the last-16 alive by avoiding defeat against England and taking it to the final game against Tunisia.