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For more analysis, lineup projections and predictions, head to our World Cup preview hub, bookmark it, and return as all 32 team previews a...

World Cup 2018 team preview: Panama plays ugly soccer, but has a beautiful story

For more analysis, lineup projections and predictions, head to our World Cup preview hub, bookmark it, and return as all 32 team previews and eight group previews roll in.

Outlook
Odds to win Group G: 2.9%
Odds to advance: 9.1%
Odds to win World Cup: 0.1%
Elo rank: 48
Yahoo Sports power rank: 31

Our writers say: U.S. fans need no reminding Panama is heading to Russia at the expense of the Yanks, thanks to a ghost goal against Costa Rica in that fateful last round of Hex qualifiers. In their first-ever appearance at the World Cup, Los Canaleros favor physicality and force over tactics and finesse. Panama will be no pushover, but it’s difficult seeing anything better than an honorable discharge from the group stage. — Ryan Bailey

(Odds via BetOnline, converted to percentages – and therefore slightly exaggerated)

Roman Torres eliminated the United States and sent Panama to its first World Cup, then celebrated with a now-famous selfie. (Getty)
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Basics
World Cup appearance: 1st
Best World Cup finish: None
2014 finish: Did not qualify
Qualifying: Finish third in CONCACAF, behind Mexico and Costa Rica, ahead of Honduras and the United States
Schedule: Belgium (Monday, June 18, 11 a.m., FS1), England (Sunday, June 24, 8 a.m., FS1), Tunisia (Thursday, June 28, 2 p.m., Fox/FS1)

Squad
Manager: Hernan Dario Gomez
Captain: Roman Torres (D)
Top players: Jaime Penedo (G), Torres, Anibal Godoy (M)
Full 23-man (or preliminary) squad

Breakdown
Why they’ll win games: They’ll beat the s— out of you, to put it bluntly. They’ll make a soccer game into something unrecognizable, more a street fight with a ball curiously being kicked around amid it. They’ll foul and provoke you, frustrate you, and then use your frustration against you to catch you on the counter.

Why they’ll lose games: When their kicks and hacks catch air instead of shins, they can be ripped to shreds – see U.S. 4, Panama 0, four days before you know what; or Switzerland 6, Panama 0 in a March friendly. Many of their prominent players are well past their primes, and have lost a step. They’ll be the oldest team in Russia. And teams with more quality than their typical CONCACAF foes will expose them.

How they’ll play: To call what they’ll do against England and Belgium “defensive” is an understatement. The question is what shape they’ll defend in. They primarily played four at the back throughout qualifying, but went three at the back – which is really five at the back – in March, probably in preparation for two far superior opponents.

Projected lineup (5-4-1): Jaime Penedo; Michael Murillo, Felipe Baloy, Roman Torres, Fidel Escobar, Luis Ovalle; Armando Cooper, Gabriel Gomez, Anibal Godoy, Alberto Quintero; Gabriel Torres

Per the note above, we’ll project a 5-4-1, but it could be a 4-4-2 with the pacey Gabriel Torres pairing Blas Perez up top. At the back, Harold Cummings or Adolfo Machado could replace any of the three center backs. Edgar Barcenas and Miguel Camargo are options in midfield. This 11 is pretty tough to predict.

Rooting Guide
What makes them unique: It’s their first time here! OK, not quite unique, but the way they earned their first trip to the grandest stage of all was special. There was the phantom goal. And Torres’ unforgettable winner, which led to the selfie in the picture above. There was an unused substitute racing down the touchline to boot the ball deep into the stands to waste time. And there were … scenes:

Why to root for them: Man, how can you not root for Panama after watching that?

Why to root against them: OK, here’s how you can not root for them: because they play what we kindly refer to as “anti-football.” Oh, and they were in part responsible for eliminating the U.S.

If you’re going to watch one game … Definitely the England game.

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