Perez's brace gives Panama victory

Blas Perez celebrating after scoring against Bolivia in their Group D match, which Panama won 2-1. The journeyman striker has played for 16 clubs in eight countries.
Blas Perez celebrating after scoring against Bolivia in their Group D match, which Panama won 2-1. The journeyman striker has played for 16 clubs in eight countries.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

ORLANDO (Florida) • Panama striker Blas Perez has certainly seen his share of the world, playing in eight different countries in his career, but somehow he always seems to save his best for his homeland.

Goals in each half from the 35-year-old gave Panama a 2-1 win over Bolivia in the Copa American Centenario on Monday - a win hailed as "historic" by Panamanians given they had never faced South American opponents in a competitive match before.

Judging by the reaction of Perez, who collapsed to the ground and was mobbed by his team-mates after striking the 87th-minute winner, the victory was more than just a good start to their Group D campaign.

"We are enjoying this one," he said after the game. "It is our first time in the Copa and it is a joy."

The brace took his career tally for his country to 41 goals in 106 appearances and will have surely ended any debate over whether coach Hernan Dario Gomez was right to stick with the forward despite his age.

"Blas works so hard, does so much running and he knows how to score," Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo said.

Perez has played for 16 clubs in eight countries.

After debuting in his homeland, he has had stints in Uruguay, Mexico, Colombia, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, the United States and Canada, where he currently plays for Major League Soccer's Vancouver Whitecaps.

"He is a man that represents a lot of things on and off the field," Gomez said. "He has had his share of heaven and hell but again he was out there demonstrating his qualities for 90 minutes, running and fighting.

"He scored two very important goals. This group loves him and he transmits a lot of important things to the group. We have supported him, even through his difficult times.

"He has great experience, he is a great man and Panama loves him."

Panama have never reached a World Cup Finals and, while the improving nation certainly has a chance for Russia 2018, that may come too late for Perez.

That will make their next two group games, against Argentina and Chile, even more special for the Panama City-born forward.

"Argentina will be hard, Chile too," Perez said. "But our coach just told us to go and enjoy this Cup."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 08, 2016, with the headline 'Perez's brace gives Panama victory'. Print Edition | Subscribe