SARANSK, Russia (AP) — Panama defender Felipe Baloy has one more goal before his international career ends this year at age 37.
After scoring his country’s first goal at its first World Cup , Baloy now would like to experience Panama’s first victory on international soccer’s greatest stage. Standing in the way is Tunisia, which will be seeking its first World Cup victory since 1978 when the sides meet to close out Group G play on Thursday night.
“When we came to this World Cup, we knew we were going to have three really hard matches against Belgium, England and Tunisia,” Baloy said before training Tuesday. “We knew the first two were difficult. The last match against England, we couldn’t achieve a victory, but we achieved our first goal.
“That’s not to say we’re going to beat Tunisia, but we hope to have a victory to give as a gift to our people in Panama so they can celebrate and be proud of us.”
Baloy also would like as many fans as possible to watch Panama’s pursuit of history, rather than the other Group G finale between England and Belgium at the same time.
“It’s difficult to ask fans to watch our match instead of England and Belgium because they have players who are world class,” Baloy said.
Panama and Tunisia are both eliminated, while England and Belgium have advanced to the round of 16.
Still, Baloy invited soccer fans worldwide “to watch our game, because it will be a beautiful game and we are very proud to play our last game at the World Cup.”
Indeed, low-stakes group finales between teams who’ve failed to qualify for the knockout stage have a way of producing plenty of highlights. The pressure is off to defend robustly. Rather, players can feel relaxed to explore the bounds of their abilities in an effort to make their mark on the tournament.
There hasn’t been a draw in such a game since the tournament expanded to 32 teams in 1998, a trend extended when Saudi Arabia pulled out a 2-1 victory over Egypt with an injury-time goal Monday.
Tunisia has looked more competitive than Panama so far.
England needed a late goal to defeat Tunisia 2-1 . Despite falling behind by multiple goals early against Belgium, Tunisia rallied for a pair of goals in a 5-2 loss . Their three scorers so far have been midfielder Ferjani Sassi, defender Dylan Bronn and Renne striker Wahbi Khazri.
Baloy called Khazri Tunisia’s “most interesting player,” adding, “we can’t be overconfident. We can’t think is going to be easy.”
Panama was routed 3-0 by Belgium in its tournament opener before falling 6-1 to England .
Those results give Tunisia defender Hamdi Naguez confidence of his side’s chances.
“We played two matches against better teams than us, as we were in a difficult group,” Naguez said. “Now, we should focus on the last match and win against Panama, and stop this run of 40 years without winning a World Cup match.”
The suspension of Panama defender Michael Murillo because of yellow cards in each of Panama’s first two games further opened the possibility that 33-year-old Adolfo Machado could make his World Cup debut. Machado has played 76 times for Panama overall.
Meanwhile, Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo emerged from Sunday’s loss to England with a sore right leg, making his availability unclear.
Tunisia has several regulars out of action with injuries. Bronn has left the team because of an ankle bruise. Defender Syam Ben Youssef remains with the team, but has been ruled out of the finale with knee swelling. Goalkeeper Mouez Hassen, who started Tunisia’s first game against England, is out with a shoulder injury. Farouk Ben Mustapha started in goal against Belgium, but Aymen Mathlouthi also is available.
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