Wed, Jun 08, 2016 - Page 18 News List

Blas Perez leads Panama to 2-1 win over Bolivia

AFP, ORLANDO, Florida

Panama’s Blas Perez, left, kicks the ball past Bolivia’s Edward Zenteno in the second half of their Copa America Centenario Group D match at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida, on Monday.

Photo: Reinhold Matay, USA TODAY

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 on Monday gave Panama a 2-1 win over Bolivia in the Copa America Centenario — a victory hailed as “historic” by Panama, given that they had never faced South American opponents in a competitive match before.

Certainly, judging by the reaction of Perez, who collapsed to the ground and was mobbed by his teammates 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,” Perez told reporters after the game.

“It is our first time in the Copa and it is a joy,” he added.

The brace took Perez’s 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 told reporters.

“He is also a great guy, a real leader in the dressing room,” he added.

Perez has seen plenty of different dressing rooms having played for 16 clubs in eight countries.

After debuting in his homeland, he has performed in Uruguay, Mexico, Colombia, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, the US 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 added.

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

“He has great experience, he is a great man and Panama loves him,” Gomez added.

Panama has never qualified for the World Cup and while the improving nation certainly has a chance for Russia 2018, that might come too late for Perez.

That will make the upcoming two games in Group D, against Argentina and Chile, even more special for the Panama City-born forward.

“Argentina will be hard, Chile too, but our coach just told us — now go and enjoy this Cup,” Perez said.

Judging by the smile on his face, Perez needs no invitation.

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