Panama are preparing to face the best England team of the last decade, according to midfielder Anibal Godoy.
Gareth Southgate’s side meet World Cup debutants Panama in Nizhny Novgorod on Sunday buoyed by the dramatic victory over Tunisia in their opening fixture on Monday evening.
Though a last-gasp Harry Kane winner was required in Volgograd, there were plenty of encouraging signs in the Three Lions’ display ahead of their clash with Los Canaleros, who frustrated Belgium for 47 minutes before falling to a 3-0 loss.
Panama’s Godoy, an avid fan of the Premier League, would not have been surprised by England’s performance.
“I watch live Premier League games every weekend – every Panama player watches the Premier League every week,” the San Jose Earthquakes midfielder told Press Association Sport.
“I know how good the players are, I know the young players they have in this moment – Raheem Sterling, Dele Alli, Harry Kane, Eric Dier, Jordan Henderson.
“It’s a different England. It’s not like 10 years ago. Now they have more quick players, more fresh players. I think this World Cup for England is very important. They are stronger than they have been in the last few World Cups.
“They have a lot of good players. The Premier League is, for me, the best league in the world. They don’t have a big, big star but they work hard.”
Panama may never have been to this major global tournament before, but England fans have recent memories of being shocked by a Central American nation.
In 2014 surprise package Costa Rica topped their group, which also featured previous World Cup winners Italy and Uruguay, so it is no surprise that their neighbours Panama are taking inspiration from Los Ticos advancing to the last eight in the previous tournament.
“In football, you never know what happens in the field,” Godoy added. “You saw Costa Rica four years ago in the group when they played against Uruguay, England and Italy. They were top of the group.
“This is why football is so difficult. In this moment there are no big teams, no small teams. Every team wants to fight.”
Even if Panama are unable to replicate Costa Rica’s shocks four years on, their mere participation in Russia has had a huge impact on the sport back home.
In a country where Mariano Rivera, a 13-time All Star with baseball’s New York Yankees, and boxer Roberto Duran, a four-weight world champion, were born, football has not always been the most popular game.
Yet Godoy believes simply qualifying for the World Cup and rubbing shoulders with the likes of England and Belgium has altered that.
“Football in Panama in this moment is very important,” the midfielder explained.
“At this moment football is the first sport in the country. Everybody wants to watch the World Cup.”