HOUSTON – Panamanian defender Adolfo Machado dropped to his knees and thanked God when the referee blew his whistle inside Panama City’s Estadio Rommel Fernandez — and with good reason.
Panama had just defeated Costa Rica — thanks to an 87th-minute golazo from centerback Roman Torres — to send Los Canaleros to their first ever World Cup.
“It’s wonderful. It’s a blessing from God. To be one of the 23 to represent our country in the first World Cup for Panama,” Machado said on making Panama’s World Cup roster. “We’re going to give it our all. Hopefully, we can make Panama be felt in the World Cup.”
It won’t be easy for Panama in its first go at a World Cup. Los Canaleros are in Group G with Belgium, who are ranked third in the world, England and Tunisia.
“It’s going to be tough, we can’t pretend it won’t be. We will face very tough European teams and Tunisia as well. We have to have a strong mentality. We need to focus on giving it our all and let it be known that this is our World Cup,” Machado said. “This is Panama’s first World Cup and we want to fulfill our goals. Why can’t it be us making it out of the first round? It will be hard, but is not impossible to take points from Belgium, England and Tunisia.”
The 33-year-old centerback, who is in his second season with the Houston Dynamo, may not know what it’s like to play in a World Cup, but lucky for him, his MLS coach, Wilmer Cabrera, and fellow teammates, DaMarcus Beasley and Boniek Garcia, do.
Machado made sure to talk to them before heading for Russia.
The defender noted that Beasley, who played in four World Cups with the United States, and Garcia, who represented Honduras in two World Cups, talked to him about the experience of being at the game’s biggest tournament and also gave him some tips.
“I told him this was a type of graduation for a soccer player, especially one who has much experienced at all levels of soccer,” Garcia said. “But beyond that, to enjoy it. A World Cup needs to be enjoyed, and for him to give it his all.”
Garcia added the World Cup will make Machado a better player since he will test himself against some of the best players in the World. In the case of Machado, that means going up against the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard from Belgium and Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane of England.
Cabrera, who was an unused sub in the 1990 World Cup for Colombia but played in all three of his country’s matches in 1998, said he didn’t have any words of wisdom for Machado. However, he did say the World Cup is sure to leave an impact on him.
“It will be a change in his mentality and his experience and how he will feel because he will be in the most important and most difficult soccer tournament. One which all soccer players dream [of playing in],” Cabrera said. “And it’s going to be a beautiful experience especially because it’s the first time that his country reaches the World Cup.”
Machado and his teammates will undoubtedly get overwhelmed with emotions when they face off against Belgium in their first World Cup game, and it could start well before kickoff.
“I think we’ll have goosebumps and some will shed tears when we hear our national anthem being sung in Russia,” Machado said proudly.
But once the anthem is over, Machado and his teammates will wipe their tears off their faces, their goosebumps will retract and Los Canaleros will make history playing in their first World Cup tournament — a feat Panama has been trying to accomplish since 1978.