PHILADELPHIA -- When Panama head coach Hernan Dario Gomez decided to name several young players to his 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup roster, he set a minimum goal of that squad contesting four games in the competition.
With the Canaleros facing Costa Rica in the quarterfinals Wednesday at Lincoln Financial Field, that goal will be met.
“What I said yesterday was less than four games in this tournament I would not accept,” Gomez said at a pre-match press conference Tuesday. “We aspire to win this tournament just like Costa Rica. Panama has been a finalist [twice] before. It would be a fiasco not to play this fourth game.”
Panama is not satisfied, although Gomez knows the challenge of taking on the Ticos is sizable.
“Costa Rica, to me, respecting the other teams, of course, since I’ve been here has been one of the most important teams. Their style of play and idiosyncrasies is very South American,” commented Gomez. “Oscar Ramirez has made the team very solid. It’s difficult to attack and to get into those attacking positions. They have very fast players. It’s a very difficult team, a good team. In Panama, we’re happy to play against Costa Rica because they’re a big rival.”
They are rivals who have never previously faced off in the Gold Cup. The teams, who are both in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, are 1-1-1 in their last three meetings.
With that level of familiarity, the final result could come down to tiny details, including set pieces.
“Costa Rica is good in aerial play. We’re also pretty good, we’re accurate,” Gomez remarked. “The important thing in set pieces is the one who starts the play. We have accurate players who can put the ball where they want it to go. In close games like this aerial play and set pieces are always important.”
Most important for Gomez is for his youngsters, who have performed well during the group stage, to take that next step against a high-quality opponent.
“We always want to get to the final and maybe win the tournament,” finished Gomez. “There’s some players we have who could be permanent in the squad. I’m happy with the group, but Panama has to win these games to show what we’re made of.”