NIZHNY NOVGOROD, Russia (AP) — He made his World Cup debut at age 37, when he’s about to hang up his boots, and scored his country’s first-ever goal on soccer’s biggest stage.
What more could Panama captain and defender Felipe Baloy ask for.
The 6-1 thrashing that Panama suffered at England’s hands on Sunday and the 3-0 defeat to Belgium in the team’s first group match were mere anecdotes for the Central American country’s fans. Panama’s supporters exploded with joy when Baloy, who came on as a second-half substitute, put the ball into the net against England.
As soon as the match was over, Panama’s players gathered in the middle of the field, knelt down and hugged each other while they prayed.
For them, the goal was an historic feat. Soccer is slowly gaining a foothold in a country where baseball players and boxers reign. This is Panama’s first World Cup and its first goal was against England, the inventor of the game.
Baloy, who captains Panama even though he’s not a starter, has more than 100 international appearances and he’s running on fumes. He said that he’s “100 percent sure” that he won’t play for the national team after the World Cup, and “90 percent sure” that he won’t return to club football either.
With his goal in the 78th minute, Baloy became the fourth-oldest player to score at a World Cup. At 37 years and 120 days, Baloy is behind Cameroonian Roger Milla (42 years, 39 days), Swede Gunnar Gren (37 years, 236 days) and Mexican Cuauhtemoc Blanco (37 years, 151 days).
Sunday’s match might have been Baloy’s last if coach Hernan Dario Gomez, who took a risk in taking him to the World Cup, doesn’t select him for Panama’s last group match against Tunisia on Thursday in Saransk.
“Yes, I felt emotional,” Gomez said of Baloy’s goal. “He’s at the end of his career and he’s going to retire from the national team, and God gave him the opportunity because of his professionalism to have this beautiful goal.”
Baloy said: “Some of us players were attacked, criticized for our age.”
He was referring to players like himself and Blas Perez, another player who is 37 with more than 100 international appearances and who played as a lone striker against England.
But he proved that age sometimes doesn’t matter.
“I think it’s important, something big,” Baloy said about the goal. “England is a strong team, with great players. We’re learning a lot. The result makes us sad, but the first goal is important.”