Panama are competing at their first World Cup and were beaten 3-0 by Belgium in their opening Group G game, while England beat Tunisia 2-1 thanks to a last-gasp goal from Harry Kane.
So what can Gareth Southgate’s side expect from the Central American nation? We take a look with the help of Gary Stempel, who grew up in London but has worked in Panama football for 20 years, including as manager of the senior team and current boss of the Under-17 side…
‘They will be very feisty’
England might well have a few bumps and bruises after their clash at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium.
Even in their World Cup warm-up matches Panama did not hold back.
In a friendly against Denmark they saw Blas Perez sent off for a high challenge on goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, of which Danish striker Nicklas Bendtner said: “I remember Holland and that Nigel De Jong challenge [in the 2010 World Cup final] right in the chest. That is the only similar one I can remember.”
Denmark manager Age Hareide added: “You play a friendly, especially between two teams that will play in the World Cup, and you take it a little bit more easy – but I think that’s their style and the referee has to decide about that.”
Stempel says Panama will not hold back.
“They will be feisty, very feisty, they will get into your face very quickly and try to get you out of your rhythm.
“You have to know what your limitations are and play to your strength and that’s what Panama will do. They are very talented and physically strong.”
Panama were given five yellow cards in their opening match against Belgium, which is the joint-most in a World Cup game since the 2010 final.
While strength is one of Panama’s qualities, they do not have youth on their side. They had the oldest average squad age in qualifying of all nations to make the World Cup and have five players who are 34 years or older in their squad.
But Stempel does not think that is necessarily a worry: “Panama needed an experienced squad for their first World Cup. They need strong heads and players who have had a few years playing abroad.”
Panama might be World Cup newbies, but manager Hernan Dario Gomez is familiar with the tournament, having led Colombia and Ecuador at different tournaments.
Gomez tried different formations in qualifying, including a 3-4-3 in the defeat to Denmark and a 4-1-4-1- in a 0-0 draw with Northern Ireland in May. He went with a 4-5-1 against Belgium and Panama managed to frustrate Roberto Martinez’s side until early in the second half.
Panama’s warm-up matches were almost exclusively against European nations in a bid to prepare them for their games against Belgium and England.
“They’ve tried to change how they play when they play European teams,” said Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill after seeing his side draw in Panama City in late May.
Northern Ireland defender Jonny Evans said he thought Panama were “quite organised”.
Panama largely played four at the back during qualifying, but are likely to go with five against England. Seattle Sounders’ Roman Torres, who scored the goal that secured qualification, will be the key man in the defence, while Gabriel Torres or Perez are likely to lead the line.
Remember Rory Delap and his long throw-ins?
Panama have a similar weapon in the shape of Adolfo Machado, who plays for Houston Dynamo.
It was from one of Machado’s long throws that Panama equalised in a 1-1 draw with USA last year, prompting Houston coach Wilmer Cabrera to say: “I didn’t know he could throw the ball that hard.”
Expect to see more balls thrown into the box if Panama get the chance.
“It will be one of their weapons,” says Stempel.
“He has been doing it all his life and they will use it and look to play for Blas or Tejada who are pretty strong in the air. Panama are quite strong on set-pieces and that is one of the dead-ball situations they will try to take advantage of.”
The worry for Panama, though, is their lack of goals.
They scored just nine times in their 10 group games in the second phase of the CONCACAF system. None of their players scored more than twice on the road to Russia, when they progressed with a goal difference of -1, and their total of two shots on target against Belgium suggests England’s backline are likely to be busier starting attacks than stopping them.