Panamanian fans try to intimidate Canada

Panamanian supporters take to the streets outside Canada’s hotel early Tuesday morning in downtown...

Panamanian supporters take to the streets outside Canada’s hotel early Tuesday morning in downtown Panama City ahead of Tuesday night’s World Cup qualifier. (Canada Soccer)

KURTIS LARSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:28 AM ET

PANAMA CITY - Winning at all cost took on an entirely new meaning here early Tuesday morning when the streets outside the Canadian national team’s hotel were flooded with vocal Panamanian supporters in an effort to unsettle Canada before Tuesday night’s World Cup qualifier.

More akin to a post-game display following an NFL game, the country’s most passionate supporters set off massive fireworks above Canada’s hotel as red clad fans chanted along with drums and brass bands just a few metres from the Crowne Plaza hotel, where the Canadians set up shop upon arrival in the hot and humid country of 3.5 million Sunday night.

An official from the Canadian Soccer Association told the Sun the “Marea Roja” partied until 4 a.m. outside Canada’s hotel as armed guards watched on, but did little to curb the intimidation tactics largely seen in this region of the world.

“I’ve been through a lot,” Canadian head coach Stephen Hart said before Tuesday’s match. “That’s one of the most organized (demonstrations) I’ve seen.”

Panamanian supporters said it was a display usually reserved for the Americans and Mexicans before and after critical World Cup qualifiers in the Central American nation, matches Canadian national teams haven’t been in during failed qualifying cycles of the past.

But a fast ‚ if not surprising — start to the third round of CONCACAF’s gruelling qualifying process has seen Canadians at home, as well as competing supporters, take note. So much so that many local fans outside the stadium Tuesday night praised Canada for the strides it has made during the current campaign, especially after failing to win any of its six games during the same round four years ago.

For once, opposition within the region no longer looks at Canada as a small bump in the road along a rocky World Cup qualifying path that stretches across two years.

Canadian goalkeeping coach, Pat Dolan, a member of Canada’s only World Cup squad in 1986 and someone who has been through the process many times before, summed up the Panamanian support outside Canada’s hotel Tuesday morning with a tweet.

“I have never seen anything this loud, disruptive and orchestrated in my 28 years in CONCACAF,” he wrote.

But players and staff were hardly intimidated by the tactics, tweeting throughout the night and into Tuesday morning about the experience, using the country’s antics as motivation in the buildup to Tuesday’s CONCACAF qualifier — one that reshaped Canada’s four-team third-round group with two matches remaining.

After topping Panama 1-0 last week in Toronto, heading into Tuesday night, Canada needed at least four points from its final three matches to secure passage to the region’s final round of qualifying for the first time in more than a decade. Canada will next face Cuba in Toronto on Oct. 12 and Honduras on Oct. 16.

The top two finishers will advance to CONCACAF’s final round next year.

“From here on out it’s just going to probably get bigger and bigger and bigger,” team captain Kevin McKenna said of Canada’s current run through qualifying. “These are the games you live for as a child growing up in Canada … The emotion is fantastic.”

Throughout Tuesday, locals scrambled for tickets — and a chance to join the more than 30,000 fans that packed the country’s national stadium in a match that was as big as they come in CONCACAF.

“We can play for a result (anywhere in CONCACAF),” Hart said of Canada’s remaining qualifying matches. “It would be nice to get some points now. As I’ve said, every game is extremely important”

With only two matches remaining following Tuesday night’s result, even the Panamanian Football Federation got into the act, tweeting out Canada’s hotel address for those who may have missed the multiple radio announcements during the days leading up to the match.

“I know it’s not in our favour but … I think it has been motivating,” Julian de Guzman said of the atmosphere.

It’s what makes it one of the most intriguing confederations in the world of soccer — and one of the most underrated regions in the world.

While UEFA, CONMEBOL, CAF and AFC all have their own interesting quirks, CONCACAF’s hostile — some would say dangerous — destinations make for an unmatched environment that can only be fully understood if taken in first hand.


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