The FIFA World Cup finals have never included Panama. Now, Sydney FC striker Yairo Yau and his Panama teammates are on the verge of making history.
Sydney FC marksman Yairo Yau might well be on his way to being one of the first ever Panamanians to grace the stage at the FIFA World Cup.
The 23-year-old striker, who has three goals from six appearances in the Sky Blue, is part of the Panama side who will battle it out with Honduras, Mexico, USA, Jamaica and Costa Rica for the 3.5 FIFA World Cup spots available to CONCACAF nations (the top three qualify automatically while fourth place plays off against the top-ranked Oceania side).
This means they have a decent chance of making it and while region heavyweights Mexico and USA are close to sure things to be heading to Brazil, Panama also have a good chance.
Having recently been to Costa Rica, this author can tell you first hand that confidence in their national side is not high, while Jamaica might just be making up the numbers and Honduras, despite having an emerging side, have been beaten and drawn with Panama in qualifying thus far.
Combined these are good reasons to be confident Panama can make history and Yau is keen to be a part of it, even if the travel between Sydney and Panama City leaves him weary.
“The travel is very difficult because of the distance between Panama and Australia, the last two times, the timetable and the jetlag has made it hard to back up for Sydney, but at the same time the next game is not till February, so I have time to develop my game here,” the ever-smiling Yau told Football Australia via an interpreter.
“I am very excited about playing for Panama again in February and the possibility of making history for Panama and playing in the World Cup finals in Brazil.
“Every time I wear the T-shirt of the national team I feel very proud to go and that we are very close to reaching the World Cup finals is a dream.
“The biggest obstacle will be Mexico, they have the most high quality players, but also the USA and Honduras are very difficult opponents for us, it won-t be easy.”
It may not be easy but as it turns out, Yau, in a way, has the best of both worlds; a national legend in Julio Dely Valdes coaching him at home and an international superstar in Alessandro del Piero to give him tips when he is “away” in Sydney.
Yau admitted he is somewhat starstruck by both, but is keen to take as much from a legend he watched so much of as a child and another he can watch now.
“He (Valdes) is a reference for all the Panama players. He was someone I looked up to as a child. I would like to follow in his footsteps because he is an idol for Panamanian soccer players,” Yau said.
“Alessandro is very helpful I am learning a lot from him he is a very good person and professional, he will always have a word about tactics and I learn a lot from him in that way.”
But what of Sydney FC? Bottom of the ladder after eight round, the media hounding them and now a new coach.
Despite all of this Yau believes coming to Australia on a one-year loan deal has served his game well and is helping him when he heads back home to represent his country, though he wouldn-t be drawn into talk about extending his present deal.
“Right now my focus is on and improved performance. My main goal right now is to help the team forward and then after that, I will see if extending the deal is possible,” he said.
“Here the game is faster than in Panama but also this helps me when I go back to Panama.
“Learning a different style, it also opens up the opportunity to learn other positions, and then maybe I can play these in the national team.”
While Yau is the first Panamanian player to grace our shores he is not the last, Ricardo Clarke is currently on the roster at Wellington Phoenix and like Yau he might just be a real player of the future, he-s also a reminder of home for Yau, if the Spanish-speaking striker ever gets homesick.
“Ricardo is a young player who may not be getting the chances he should yet, he is a very good player and I communicate with him very often, he just needs more minutes and more chances to play and then you will see his best.”