For most Canadian national team fans, Panama was just another country in the second round group stage they had to win against at least once, ideally twice, to get to the six team final round of World Cup qualifying.
When the Canadian Soccer Association sent out a press release showing fans gathered outside the stadium on Sunday night, it was kind of cute. Because Canada beat them at BMO in Toronto in a fairly tame match (ball-hiding aside), Panama needed to win at home to stay alive. So of course Panamanian supporters would do everything within their power to gain advantage.
Since then, for whatever reason, the hotel party story gained traction both here in Canada and in Panama. Panama’s official national team Twitter feed apparently Tweeted in support of the gathering, only to later delete it.
Meanwhile radio shows like CBC Toronto’s Metro Morning drew attention to the fireworks, lasers, trumpets, and drums, likely because the old hat tactic is still a novelty for a media that doesn’t normally focus about the mens national team in WCQs (usually because by this time they’d have one point and a chance in hell of making the Hex). The Sun’s Kurt Larson has a running blog with video of the all-night pep rally.
Casual fans are upset because, you know, Canadians would never do this sort of thing (they should of course, even though the police wouldn’t get it and would break it up fairly quickly because other, non-soccer-playing people stay in hotels in Toronto). The CSA is attempting to drive up the anger with releasing videos accompanied by words like “shocking” and “intimidation,” rather than more appropriate terms like “silly”, “vaguely desperate” and “bush league.”
Apparently the noise went on until 4 AM. Fine, Canadians might be a little weary today, which might mean something on the pitch, but likely shouldn’t. But now Panama are no longer just another Central American team we have to beat away. Instead, as far as rivalry is concerned, their generally par-for-the-course jerkball now makes them kind of a Honduras lite. That gives Canada a bit more of a drive to humiliate their home fans, and crush their puny World Cup dream in their own back yard. We may eat these words of course, but it’s worth the risk to have them on the table. So thanks, noise makers.