- Angel Orelien is Panama’s midfield organiser
- Los Canaleros looking for first win at a U-20 World Cup
- Orelien: “We’re very strong at the back”
He is Panama’s facilitator, a player who can skip past opponents, set up his team-mates and take penalties, too. And though he has just turned 18 and is one of the youngest members of Los Canaleros at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Poland 2019, Angel Orelien shows a maturity that belies his tender age.
His ability to evade opposing players may come as a surprise to many, but to him it is an entirely natural gift, something he learned to do at an early age. His first opponent? His mother.
“I’d spend my whole time playing in the neighbourhood, but there were many times when my mother wouldn’t let me,” the smiling midfielder told FIFA.com. “She kept telling me I had to study, until one time my grandfather took me to Felipe Baloy’s academy without her knowing. That’s where it all began.”
Orelien eventually won his mother over with his superb performances on the pitch and hasn’t looked back since. And such has been his meteoric rise that he signed for Mexico’s Cruz Azul just before departing for Poland.
“I’m delighted with the move but that’s history now,” he said. “I’m focusing on the present and I’m ready to do my very best on the pitch. Panama have never won a match at the U-20 World Cup, so we’re going for that and a lot more besides.”
So how can Panama achieve their goals?
“We’re very strong at the back and we’re also working on different formations,” said Orelien. “Coach [Jorge Dely Valdes] has us playing a very different type of football to the traditional Panamanian game. So what we do is make ourselves very difficult to break down and hit really hard on the counter.”
A major challenge
The task ahead will not be easy, not with France, Mali and Saudi Arabia providing the opposition for Panama in the group phase.
“It’s a tough group with good teams,” said Orelien. “We’ve watched videos but we’re not too worried. We’re just focusing on ourselves. That focus and the job we have to do is reflected out on the pitch. We approach every match in the way that we should.”
Unlike previous Panama sides, the current Canaleros crop possess plenty of experience, which explains why they feel they can take on anyone.
“We couldn’t be in better shape and we’re focused,” he explained. “We’ve got a great side, with players who’ve been able to make the move out of Panama. We’re united as one and getting stronger as a unit with every passing day, and we’ve got the team to beat anyone.”
Given his stature in the side, Orelien is an obvious leader on this exciting adventure. But how does he cope with the pressure that brings?
“Every footballer has to deal with pressure, wherever they go,” said Orelien. “I’ve got people behind me who help me with that and make sure I keep my feet on the ground. I’ve got good coaches who speak to me a lot and I know very well that I’ve still got a lot to learn.”