One of the men planning England’s downfall in Russia is a World Cup specialist who became a pariah in his own country, Colombia, for assaulting a woman but has nonetheless achieved heroic status in Panama.
Many will question how Hernan ‘Bolillo’ Gomez has been allowed the chance to restore his coaching reputation after he had repeatedly struck a woman, who turned out to be his mistress, Isabel Fernanda del Rio, outside a bar in Bogota in 2011.
Then Colombia’s coach, he resigned amid the furore in what seemed a shameful end to his career, during which he had taken his native country to the 1998 World Cup finals, where they lost to England, and then led Ecuador to the 2002 tournament.
Hernan ‘Bolillo’ Gomez has restored his coaching reputation in Panama
Though Independiente Medellin gave him a way back, it seemed his international coaching days were over until he was taken on by the relative footballing backwater of Panama, a nation where baseball dominates.
Gomez’s success in taking them to a historic first World Cup finals at the expense of the USA would explain why a case of serious domestic abuse has been overlooked by some Panamanians.
Gomez does appear contrite about what happened.
‘My behaviour that night was a total disgrace,’ he said in 2012.
‘I lost my family, my wife and Colombia. I wished to die. I had not been drinking alcohol for many years and I was suffering from stress after Copa America.’
Panama coach Gomez celebrates clinching place at the World Cup in Russia
The spell in charge of Colombia which ended so shamefully was his second in charge of the country, having taken them to the 1998 World Cup finals, which ultimately ended in disappointment when England beat them 2-0 in Lens to qualify for the last 16 ahead of them.
The job he has done with Panama is remarkable, as he has lower calibre players than he did at Colombia and Ecuador.
They are a team largely built on defensive solidity: they scored nine goals in the 10 games of the final six-team qualification group as opposed to the USA’s 17.
However, they finished two places above the USA to qualify after benefiting from a ‘ghost goal’ in the final games. Everyone barring Guatemalan referee Walter Lopez realised that Costa Rica, leading 1-0 at the time, had scrambled away a shot which Blas Perez was attempting to force over the line.
But the referee awarded a goal, allowing Panama to win with an 88th-minute strike from defender Roman Torres, sparking pandemonium in Panama City and a national holiday in celebration.
Author: Nancy Parker
Nancy Parker is a five time Emmy Award winning journalist and seven time Emmy nominee who has spent almost twenty five years covering news in South Louisiana. She has anchored every prime time newscast at WVUE FOX8 during her twenty year tenure in New Orleans.