World Cup 2018:
|England v Panama|
|Date: Sunday, 24 June Time: 13:00 BST Venue: Nizhny Novgorod Stadium|
|Stay radio and textual content protection on BBC Radio 5 reside and the BBC Sport web site|
Damion Potter was appointed British Ambassador to Panama in August 2017 and has witnessed first-hand how the Fifa World Cup – and Sunday’s match in opposition to England – has gripped the nation.
Final October, two months after changing into British Ambassador to Panama, I used to be again in London accompanying a delegation of Panamanians to advertise commerce and funding.
As a part of this, Panama’s Commerce Minister gave a keynote speech to the Metropolis of London. I will not neglect his presentation in a rush.
Solely a few hours earlier Panama had certified for his or her first-ever World Cup, with a last-minute aim in opposition to Costa Rica.
Unable to include his enthusiasm, the Commerce Minister opened with a number of replays of the aim which had already gone viral in Panama, exhibiting it from each angle on the large display whereas he jumped across the stage in entrance of a delighted viewers who might see simply how a lot this meant to him, and to his nation.
He was not the one one celebrating.
5 thousand miles away, the occasion was nonetheless going robust in Panama Metropolis. Because the match got here to a detailed Panamanians spilled out onto the streets to the sound of reggaeton, fireworks and automotive horns as your entire nation revelled within the group’s success.
President Juan Carlos Varela declared the next day a national holiday, recognising in his midnight tweet what was already visibly obvious: nobody was going to work the following day.
Residing and dealing in Panama confirmed me first-hand the fervour and pleasure their first World Cup meant and I used to be already wanting ahead to being in Panama for his or her video games, however this was given an additional twist final December after they have been drawn in the identical group as England.
Out of the blue all eyes have been on not simply the World Cup however how the group would carry out in opposition to gamers that are family names in Panama.
Many right here watch the Premier League – almost each time I get a taxi in Panama the dialog inevitably turns to Manchester Metropolis, Manchester United or Liverpool and their current victories or setbacks. This implies the possibility to face England within the World Cup has actually captured their creativeness.
In the previous couple of months I have been invited on TV half a dozen occasions to speak about soccer which has been an amazing alternative to advertise the UK to a large viewers throughout Panama.
This has seen me doing every little thing from sporting a high hat and tails at a tea occasion on a morning TV present, to providing my opinion on one of the best fish and chips!
Only a few weeks in the past, Panama played Northern Ireland in what was their final dwelling sport earlier than travelling to Russia.
Panama’s President had invited me to look at the match with him from his field within the nationwide stadium. The ambiance was electrical; everybody within the stand had their very own Panamanian flag, and the reside bands made positive everybody was dancing by many of the sport.
Panamanians know occasion they usually have been decided to ship their group off in model – the sport began 10 minutes late because the firework show simply saved going.
The sport completed a ‘diplomatic’ 0-0, which additionally spared me from one other Panamanian custom within the nationwide stadium – if Panama rating, everybody throws their beers up within the air in celebration and it is inconceivable to keep away from getting drenched.
Late final yr I hosted an occasion to look at one in every of Panama’s first worldwide friendlies after qualifying, against Wales in Cardiff.
Panamanians are passionate individuals, and with the win in opposition to Costa Rica contemporary of their minds, emotion was working excessive as they confronted a European facet. They took coronary heart from a 1-1 draw.
I am positive if they will handle the identical consequence in opposition to England they are going to be celebrating as if they’d gained.
They usually have saved the occasion going for the reason that begin of the World Cup.
For the sport in opposition to Belgium on Monday the nation got here to a standstill. No nationwide vacation this time, however with the sport kicking off at 10 within the morning native time, many individuals stayed at dwelling to see it reside; and most of those that went to work nonetheless managed to discover a display to look at it.
The streets have been empty for these 90 minutes. On the TV protection of the sport, and with the Panamanians watching from right here, you possibly can see the satisfaction that everybody took in singing the nationwide anthem earlier than the sport.
Folks informed me it was a dream come true to see the group standing there within the stadium.
Many thought they have been nonetheless dreaming by the top of the primary half, as they saved a clear sheet in opposition to Belgium. Though they finally misplaced 3-0, Panamanians have been proud of their facet’s efficiency in opposition to a group ranked third finest on the earth.
With hopes working excessive and seeing outcomes equivalent to Croatia beating Argentina 3-0, there’s a perception right here that Panama might come away with some extent in opposition to England on Sunday, and presumably extra in opposition to Tunisia the next week.
Diplomacy is a humorous outdated sport. I’ve spent the final yr working to strengthen bilateral relations.
With soccer very a lot entrance of thoughts, President Varela discovered time to swap soccer shirts with the Overseas Secretary on his current go to to the UK, the place he additionally met the Prime Minister, cupboard ministers and the UK’s non-public sector to discuss UK-Panama relations.
We’re all the time in search of new and inventive methods to have interaction Panamanians. The friendlies with Wales and Northern Eire, and specifically the World Cup match in opposition to England, have been a present.
On Sunday, I’ll host 120 senior Panamanian contacts for the match. I believe I can be one in every of just a few sporting an England shirt. I’ll cheer loudly if the Three Lions win, though maybe much less so than if I have been on extra impartial territory.
One of many friends would be the Commerce Minister who confirmed the Metropolis of London that unbelievable second in opposition to Costa Rica.
He has promised me that, ought to Panama rating, he’ll leap within the nearest swimming pool. I count on that might be simply the beginning of the celebrations.
If Panama win, it will likely be an unbelievable place to be – except you are the British Ambassador.