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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 20 July 2018

Gomez hopeful Panama can give England a 'hard time'

The Panamanians must get something out of Sunday's Group G clash to keep their hopes of reaching the knockout stages at the World Cup

Panama's manager Hernan Dario Gomez hopes his side can give England a tough time in their Group G game on Sunday. Dimitar Dilkoff / AFP
Panama's manager Hernan Dario Gomez hopes his side can give England a tough time in their Group G game on Sunday. Dimitar Dilkoff / AFP

Panama manager Hernan Dario Gomez made light of the drama surrounding England's leaked training notes by naming his own starting XI on the eve of the match.

Opposite number Gareth Southgate has questioned the English media's decision to publish pictures which hinted a possible team for Sunday's clash in Nizhny Novgorod, suggesting it could provide rival teams with an advantage.

But Gomez has no such qualms and revealed within seconds of his pre-match press conference that he would be retaining the same side which lost 3-0 to Belgium.

"The line-up will be exactly the same," he said.

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"I like how my team worked. The team that starts the match is the one with the most experience, that's one of our assets. As a starting XI we are very organised and tactical."

The veteran Colombian coach, who is at his third World Cup, also dismissed the notion that an early tip-off about Harry Kane's strike partner - be it Raheem Sterling or Marcus Rashford - helped his cause.

"It doesn't give me or afford me any advantage," he said.

"I think each and every coach needs to make sure they're 100 per cent prepared and ready regardless of the opposition.

"It doesn't matter who plays, because if one doesn't play the other is just as good."

Gomez has a healthy respect for Gareth Southgate's side, ranking them as a tougher proposition than the higher-ranked Belgians.

Yet he was clear to point out that Panama are not in Russia for the ride and will be fighting to over-turn every expectation of what they can achieve at their first World Cup.

"England are going to be our hardest match by far," he said ahead of a match where if they are beaten their hopes of reaching the knockout stages are over.

"They don't have a lot of individual stars like Belgium and (Eden) Hazard, but they work well as a team, especially on ball recovery, and are an excellent team. This is going to be a very tough nut to crack.

"We could lose 3-0 again or even worse, but mathematically we still have the possibility to progress. I told my players today that they can still qualify.

"If we play in an organised way we know how we can make their individual players have a hard time - we admire them but we can't give them any space. There is only one ball on the pitch and we're going to fight for it."

Panama's battling performance against Belgium was warmly received back home and, although Gomez realises there are no guarantees the goodwill will remain, he is hoping for the best.

"Just as the country is pleased now, tomorrow or the day after they could hate us and we lose four years of work," he said.

"But 90 minutes of football can change your life."