The game itself lasts 90 minutes, but it the pivotal moments determine the winner. It was no different in Panama’s second World Cup group stage match, as the CONCACAF underdogs were overwhelmed 6-1 by energetic England.
Under glorious sunny skies at Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, the San Jose Earthquakes’ Anibal Godoy and his teammates lined up against the European powers, still licking their wounds after falling to Belgium 3-0 in their World Cup debut, still alive to advance to the knockout stage of the tournament.
From the opening kickoff, Panama played with intent, not wilting in the glare of the spotlight, standing toe-to-to with England. And less than five minutes in, it appeared they had their chance to shock the Group G favorites.
Acting quickly and anticipating an England buildup in possession, Édgar Bárcenas intercepted the ball along the right sideline and initiated a counterattack with a one-touch pass to Armando Cooper. With the England defenders scrambling to get back into position, Cooper drove towards goal, but he had the ball poked away.
Bárcenas hadn’t given up his run, and the ball deflected right into his path near the top of the area. He looked up, just as Godoy was sprinting into position on the weak side, and slid a pass into the stride of the San Jose Earthquakes midfielder, anticipating the breakthrough Panama so desired.
Godoy elected to let the ball come across his body to his left foot, where he eschewed a touch to take a direct shot against the exposed goalkeeper, 18 yards away. Panama had yet to score in this World Cup — in any World Cup — and this was Godoy’s moment to cement his name in his country’s soccer lore.
But his technique came up short, as he stabbed the ball well over the target, much to the relief of the English, and much to the chagrin of his teammates. Godoy raised his hands plaintively at the missed opportunity before turning around, head down, and retreating back into position.
Three minutes later, John Stones scored an uncontested header on a corner kick, and England was off to the races. Stones’ goal opened the floodgates for the favorites, as they hit for five goals before the halftime whistle, but the game had been decided in those first 10 minutes, as one side finished its chances and the other could not.
Godoy’s day came to an end when he was substituted out of the game in the 63rd minute, seconds after Harry Kane scored his team’s sixth goal, completing his hat-trick and sealing Panama’s fate in the tournament. It was a tough moment for the midfielder to see his team defeated in record fashion, but he held his head high as he left the field.
Panama has one more game to play — against fellow Group G eliminated side Tunisia — that will be anything but inconsequential for Godoy and his fellow countrymen. They’ll be playing more for pride than points this Thursday in what will be the final game before the knockout round begins on Saturday, one last chance for Panama to shine on soccer’s biggest stage.