In Panamá they say that I am a hero. In the history of Panamá we have had great athletes such as Roberto Durán, Irving Saladino, Mariano Rivera. But the dream of qualifying for the World Cup always seemed impossible. Mundial del Barrio is the most anticipated youth tournament of the whole year in Panama Our entire country longs for the national team to reach the World Cup. We have failed many times. But this year, thank God, we managed to get through to the World Cup The truth is that we the players, and many Panamanians, we always had hope. I was one of those who never I lost hope. I believe that my teammates didn’t, either. For fútbol fans like me, moments of joy are always followed by moments of great sadness. Four years ago, the game against the United States if we tie or win that game we go to the playoff. The impossible was happening. A few minutes from reaching the playoff, a US goal sends us out of the World Cup I remember that was a very sad time for all soccer fans in Panamá. Estadio Rommel Fernández – It was full of people crying. It was a hard blow for the country. It hurt much more because we were just a step away and it vanished in two minutes. It was hard. It was hard to move on from it. For me, personally, it took several months. I went to MLS, a league that has given me the stability that I needed. [That defeat] helped us see the errors that we committed Some things that we really were missing. That reward of taking the last penalty kick of the championship game when Seattle had never been champion — that filled me with motivation keep working, and reminded me that also I have a commitment to my national team. We set ourselves a goal that we could not cry out of sadness anymore. We have to cry tears of joy. I played in the Mundial del Barrio four years ago, as a champion with a group of classmates that are like my brothers, with lots of talent. Many were better than me but they do not want to continue playing. Today they congratulate me for everything that I have accomplished. Colón. A tough province where there is a lot of talent: boxers, baseball players, football players. A province that has given much fruit to the country. This is the soccer field where I grew up. Before this synthetic surface, it was just stones, and glass and now it’s a bit better He told me, ‘Mama, one day I’m going to fulfill my dreams.’ When he told me the news that New York had signed him – whoa. Panamá is the best country in the world because of the Panamanian people, their joy, the parties, the culture, and the charisma that we have. My stage name is Lino Pau It’s backwards, you see. Fidel Escobar my nephew, who I adore. We’ve had a lot of people migrate to Panama over the years like Jamaicans and Hatians and our culture has become very mixed. That mixing also has influenced our sports. Here in the barrios, kids love to play soccer and listen to plena music. I always dreamed of playing in a full Rommel Fernandez stadium. The national team hadn’t ever called me in, but I knew that I could get there. I kept thinking “Why haven’t they called me? “When they are going to call me? I’m 28 years old.” Does it hurt, Papi? It hurts. It hurts a lot. I was in Venezuela for five years, where I became captain of the team. But I had to keep working because my family depends on me, regardless whether I make the national team. Thank God, one day the news came that they called me up. In Panama, we are very proud of our Canal, and that’s why we proudly call our national team Los Canaleros. I remember times when we would be about to play against Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador or Guatemala, and we’d think, “How many goals we were going to allow?” I think that in terms of the national team, Panamanian football has improved immensely. There were generations before that included Rommel Fernández, Julio y Jorge Dely Valdés, René
Mendieta – historic players but who did not accomplish the goal. The generation that came before, they worked hard to try and reach a World Cup. They left a positive legacy that the younger group in the national team around that time — Blás Pérez, Felipe Baloy, Jaime Penedo and others– they were able to teach those things to the current generation. Bolillo Gómez encountered these different generations and knew how to join them into one group. He is a coach who always believed in the national team from the first minute he came here He already took Colombia, and Ecuador to the World Cup. He is a World Cup coach. He said, “This Panama team has something. It has talent and it has heart.” In past generations, very few Panamanians played professionally abroad. Last year we had a lot of players at clubs outside Panama gaining more experience. That experience benefits the national team Román was always a good player with a strong physique. I think the important thing was that he left here at a young age. MLS is a good place for Panamanian players to develop. I have seen progress in Godoy, I have seen a very important progress in Murillo. A message for the fans, Román? I have a faith that trusts in the national team we are going to achieve this goal that all the Panamanian people want. All the players want to go to Russia. We started this qualifying campaign with a lot of hope … And we maintained that hope up until the game against the United States in Orlando. That game was like having a bucket of cold water poured on us. We thought that everything was over because now we needed help from other results. You saw the game and analyzed everything? You saw the whole game? And the defense was to blame? Many people lost hope that Panama would go to the World Cup. Soccer is one thing that I believe nobody understands. I was at Rommel Fernández stadium for the game against Costa Rica and realistically it looked impossible to achieve because it did not depend solely on us. No one knows what might happen between United States and Trinidad. It seemed difficult – but not impossible – that Trinidad would beat the United States. But I had faith that we would win against Costa Rica here in Panama On my cell, I’m seeing what was happening in Honduras and in Trinidad. Now Panama is saying bye bye to the dream of Russia 2018. After Costa Rica scored, we cried on the field. I don’t know if the cameras saw it. The same thing cannot be happening to us as last time. As the one who took the corner kick, I couldn’t see the ball, I couldn’t see anything. I saw the ball go in. The referee did not know what to call. He didn’t know whether to call a foul or a goal. I was saying, “Goal! Goal! Goal!” I think the pressure from the players made the referee signal the goal. It was our lucky day, a gift sent from God. Then some player said, “goal – Trinidad.” And in that moment, we knew we needed to win. It all depended on us. Near the end of the game, Roman looks at the bench and speaks with Godoy. Roman comes and tells me: “I’m going forward” so that I can cover his position. I throw the ball in to Cooper. Cooper launches the ball up to Tejada, who flicks it to Roman. I looked at the clock and I looked at the bench. Nobody was watching me. To score that goal, It is something that to this day, every time I see the replay it brings tears to my eyes. I was just in shock for a full 5 minutes not knowing what was happening because I thought I was dreaming. When you look at that play carefully, to strike the ball with that technique, on the run– I can assure you that if Román tries that 20 times, he misses 19. That is not easy. It was the best day of my 21 years of life. They didn’t let me onto the field. They didn’t believe that I was his mother. But that day we cried with the joy of that so much sacrifice was all worth it. I have seen his highs,
his lows, his best moments, his worst moments. So to be with him for this historic moment filled me with so much pride. People were calling me, saying, “How does it feel to be part of our country’s history?” I told them, “It was the work of God.” It was just our time. Many people involved in soccer in our country died holding onto this dream. They didn’t get to see it. And I think this is dedicated to those people. There are kids who see me as their idol. My family … Panama is small but it is great. We are a nation that has a lot of strength and will fight and battle to achieve things like the World Cup. People in Panama say that I’m a hero. I’m still a little surprised at what has happened since The Goal. Now I can’t just walk down the street or go to a restaurant because people in Panama love me so much. It is something impressive. All the kids want to be just like Román. Pele, Messi — but now they want to be Román. Román. And that’s good because now they want to be someone who came from here. All my teammates are on the same page. Yes, we qualified, thank God. But now comes the hard part for us. The first round is three games and we have to play those three games to the death. Belgium, England, Tunisia – we are aware that the rivals we are going to face are far superior to us in terms of history, infrastructure, leagues, and players. To mark a Harry Kane or Kevin De Bruyne, these are players who you see every weekend. They are at such a high level. People in Panama are hoping that we can be like Costa Rica was in 2014. The weakest of the group that defeated the champions. It is not impossible. We drew historic opponents with great players. We have to take it game by game, minute by minute. I know Panama can be a surprise of the World Cup. The players are aware that they have a duty to go and prove why they qualified for the World Cup.