Panama’s emergence as a growing power in CONCACAF is highlighted by the success of its youth national teams, in particular, the under-20 national side, which has played in five of the last seven FIFA U-20 World Cups.
The Canaleros will be making their fourth straight appearance in the CONCACAF Under-20 Championship this year thanks to a fourth-place finish in Central American qualifying. It was only two years ago that they reached the final, before falling to Mexico, 4-2 on penalty kicks, after a 1-1 draw.
In order to book a place in Costa Rica, Panama survived a tightly-contested qualifying competition between five sides that it saw edge Nicaragua by a single point for the last berth. Sparked by Leandro Avila’s three-goal performance, Panama easily outdistanced the Nicaraguans, 6-0, in the opener for each. It proved to be the Panamanians’ only win in four games, as two losses eventually sandwiched a 1-1 draw with first-place Honduras. Ricardo Avila’s converted penalty kick in that stalemate was the lone goal scored in the last 270 minutes of play.
The current roster, though, has an abundance of talent. Tauro forward Ronaldo Cordoba was the top scorer in the 2015 CONCACAF under-17 Championship with six goals, while Oliver Beckles (3 goals) and Leandro Avila (2 goals) combined to net another five. Midfielder Justin Simons, 19, made one appearance in the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup, playing the entire 90 minutes in a 1-0 loss to Ghana.
Another player to watch is midfielder Jose Rodriguez. In December 2016, the 18-year-old signed a four-year contract with Belgium’s Gent.
Panama went unbeaten in the 2015 edition, posting a 5W-1D-0L record. Its last loss came against El Salvador in the 2013 quarterfinals, 3-1.
Central American Qualifying Results
08.07.16 Panama 6, Nicaragua 0
10.07.16 Panama 0, Guatemala 1
14.07.16 Panama 1, Honduras 1
16.07.16 Panama 0, El Salvador 2