El Centrocampista

Spanish lament for an unnecessary Central American adventure

Photo: AFP

With the current financial crisis continuing to wreak havoc throughout Europe, domestic success or simple survival has become ever more critical for football clubs faced with the financial abyss. While for some, retaining their top flight status is success in itself, for others only silverware will do – however, both provide financial lifelines in difficult times.

As domestic and continental football becomes ever more lucrative and ultimately important, however, international football still have the potential to frustrate and infuriate in equal measure. Coaches are forever lamenting the fact that star players return from international duty injured, and many teams see their whole starting XI jet off on long flights to join up with their respective national teams.

With that in mind most European nations choose to minimise travel time and seek to play friendlies against fellow European opposition. Reigning World and European champions Spain, however, have chosen to make a gruelling 11 hour trip across the Atlantic to play footballing minnows Panama.

Many will question what the Spanish look to gain from such a friendly. True, the Panamanians will create a hostile atmosphere at their 32,00 capacity Rommel Fernandez Stadium, however, Del Bosque has named an experienced squad, with many having played in equally tough stadia before.

Logistically, it is awkward for the Spanish. This is only a mid-week break and with domestic football resuming four days later, it is a trip that many will see unnecessary . The players will spend much of their time travelling and the time difference is significant – adding jet lag into the equation.

Playing conditions may also be testing for the Spanish as,  despite being the rainy season, temperatures will be above 30 degrees with oppressive humidity. The rainy season also throws in its own problems as  heavy downpours could easily see the match abandoned and nullify the whole trip.

Nonetheless, Panama are a nation with increasing football  potential and – in last year’s Gold Cup they reached the semi-finals for only the second  time in their history before losing narrowly to the United States. The next aim is to qualify for their first ever World Cup in Brazil in 2014 and that looks more than a realistic prospect. The nation reached its peak in the Fifa  ranking over the summer, climbing to 43rd – a position undeniably  impressive for a country with barely 3.5million inhabitants.

This lofty ranking came after they made it out of a tough initial World Cup qualifying group which included Honduras, Canada and Cuba, as well as some solid performances in friendlies – including a match against Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal in which they were unlucky to lose. They must now finish in the top half of the main group which features The United States, Mexico, Panama, Jamaica, Costa Rica, and Honduras.

The US and Mexico will probably prove too strong for Julio Dely Valdés’ side, however, a third placed finished is more than achievable if their Gold Cup run is anything to go by.

Despite the concerns of those Spanish fans who question the logic of arranging a match with such logistical problems, the encounter is sure to be a huge game for the hosts. Del Bosque has named a strong squad, and thousands of Panamanians will flock to the Rommel Fernandez Stadium in Panama City to see some of the biggest stars in world football. Panama ceased to be a part of Spain in 1821 but like most Latin-American countries there are still strong ties to the old land. Also like most Latin-American countries the people would like nothing more than to put one over their old colonial masters.

Wednesday’s game also has the potential to be an entertaining encounter, with both sides known proponents of good football,  and the atmosphere should be electric. Despite this however, you cannot help but still question what Spain and the Spanish Football Federation look to gain from a friendly such as this.


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