Our planning was bad. We had a starting line-up we shouldn’t have had. And we changed the style we always had for away games because according to everyone, we would qualify against the US in Orlando. Instead, we lost 4-0.
When we got to our next game – the final qualification game – against Costa Rica, I buoyed the team up. I felt we would beat them, but in the first half the team wasn’t the same. They weren’t playing how they needed to play to get to a World Cup. They weren’t dynamic.
At half-time, I let them know that.
“I’ve got nothing to say except this: all you need is to have balls. Now, get out there.”
In the final 45 minutes, they did that. They showed more balls because they pushed Costa Rica right back. They started to play well, and with an 88th-minute goal they got their ticket to the World Cup.
“Being a national team manager is like taking a test after just three or four training sessions”
It isn’t unusual for Román Torres (above) to get a late goal like that.
He often shows up unexpectedly because he feels like it’s right, and I have never forbidden him from doing so. He is a winner. To all of us, it seemed normal that he ran up the pitch. When we saw him do that, we knew he would score.
As a manager you tell people what to do – you have an organisation – but football players have their own flashes of inspiration.
The only way I can explain the qualification of Panama is to say, it’s like a Tango called El Sueño del Pibe (The Child’s Dream). It was the greatest feeling.
By the time this tournament is over, I will have been to five World Cups with three different countries.
Being a national team manager is very difficult, because a lot of the time it’s like you are taking a test after just three or four training sessions.
But it is also wonderful. In Colombia, people hug me when I go out and thank me for representing the country well. When I meet people from Ecuador I get love, too. And that is what I want from Panamanians in the future: that when they see me, they love and hug me. That is the greatest reward.
Football has given me the hardest time in my life, but it has also given me so much pleasure. Many great moments.
I carry it in my blood.