World Cup Fans: Panama expats confident ahead of tournament debut

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Panama will make its FIFA World Cup debut in June. It's an achievement so historic that a public holiday has been declared in the Central American country.

'World Cup Fans' is a special SBS News series running in the lead up to the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. It looks at the 32 qualifying countries through the eyes of their fans in Australia. 

Less than a hundred Panamanians live in Australia, and Ana Marchese is one of them.

She has been living in Sydney for 12 years after meeting her husband John whilst working on the construction of a bridge over the Panama Canal.

Her current life is much different to the one she experienced growing up in Panama.

Ana and John Marchese
Ana and John Marchese plan on attending the World Cup to support Panama.
SBS News

"It's like you live in Adelaide," Ms Marchese told SBS News. "There are not that many people and there's no traffic."

Football has not always been the No.1 sport in Panama. After the end of a military dictatorship in 1990, the nation slowly rebuilt its economy and funds started flowing to football.

"The type of sport that we used to play was baseball," Ms Marchese said

"In the early 2000's it started to change.

"There's now a new generation of people who are so passionate about following the national football team."

After narrowly missing out on qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, history looked like it would repeat on the road to qualifying for the 2018 tournament. 

"Los Canaleros" trailed Costa Rica in the final qualifying game in the Central American confederation, known as CONCACAF.

Panama equalised in controversial fashion, before Roman Torres scored with three minutes to play, which booked  the nation a spot in the World Cup. 

"Just seeing the emotions and how everybody celebrated, it's wonderful it's a wonderful feeling," Ms Marchese recalled. 

"I think it will do so good to the country regardless of whatever happens in Russia."

Roman Torres of Panama, who scored the winning goal, celebrates the victory of the team during the FIFA World Cup CONCACAF qualifier
Roman Torres of Panama, who scored the winning goal, celebrates the victory of the team during the FIFA World Cup CONCACAF qualifier
AAP

The Marchese family is planning to join their fellow Panamanian supporters in Russia.

"We are rounding up other Panamanians," John said.

"This has been so long in the waiting, there's a lot of Panamanians that will go for sure."

Panama is in Group G with Belgium, England and Tunisia. 

The 2018 FIFA World Cup begins 15 June. SBS will broadcast the biggest games, including the opening match, semi-finals and final, live, free and in HD.

The World Game: World Cup 2018 match schedule and How to watch live.

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