Panama enforcer Torres ready for World Cup ambush

Panama City (AFP) –


If Harry Kane wants to break his tournament goalscoring duck at the World Cup, the chances are he will need to find a way past the physically imposing figure of Roman Torres.

The Panama defender is one of the key members in the Central Americans' squad, a rugged centre-half who etched his name into his nation's football history by scoring the goal that qualified the team for Russia.

At 6ft 2in and 183lbs, the burly Seattle Sounders defender with the build of boxer was the man ultimately responsible for the knockout blow that sent the United States crashing out of World Cup qualifying.

The 32-year-old's 88th-minute winner in a 2-1 victory over Costa Rica in the final round of qualifying meant Panama edge into the finals for the first time ahead of the shellshocked Americans.

It was sweet revenge for Torres, who four years earlier had been part of the Panama team which conceded two injury-time goals against the US in a 3-2 defeat that ended their hopes of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.

Now Torres is plotting a similar ambush in Russia, where Group G opponents will be England, Belgium and Tunisia.

Torres believes Panama can benefit from an element of surprise as they prepare for their World Cup debut against Belgium on June 18.

"It's important that the other teams don't know much about Panama," Torres told reporters in Los Angeles. "That's a good thing.

"It does help us. But when we get to the game it's 11 players against 11 players. At that point the most important thing is concentration and how you perform on the day."

Torres is happy for Panama to be cast as underdogs in what he described as a "difficult group."

"We will need to work very hard, and have a lot of concentration," Torres said. "We know that it's a very difficult group but nothing is impossible."

The Panamanians will also know that they have an entire nation behind them. Torres goal last year triggered a national holiday, with President Juan Carlos Valera giving the country a day off following the World Cup qualification.

"Right now the Panamanian people are living in a very impressive moment, a historic moment for the country," he said.

"The team always believed in ourselves. We believed we could achieve the goal of qualifying. We never lost our faith. And we did it."

"The Panama national team had been trying to get to the World Cup for a few years. For many years we were very close. We finally achieved it."

Torres meanwhile is unrepentant about dealing a devastating blow to soccer in the United States, where he has earned a living since 2015 following a three-year loan stint with Colombian side Millonarios.

"The United States needed to win against Trinidad and Tobago to qualify," Torres said. "They didn't. It's just the way soccer goes. We did our job. We deserved to go to the World Cup."