Panama coach Julio Cesar Dely Valdes apologized Thursday for fueling this week's FIFA debate regarding foreign-born players and their eligibility.
Valdes said he was "sorry a million times" for asking whether Mexico would play its own national anthem or Argentina’s for Friday’s crucial 2014 World Cup qualifier vs. Panama at Mexico City's Estadio Azteca. Valdes made his comments earlier this week in reference to Mexico's two naturalized Argentinean born players, Christian "Chaco" Gimenez and Damian Alvarez. Gimenez is a midfielder in the Mexican league for Cruz Azul while Alvarez, 34, sees action for Tigres.
Gimenez earlier this year became the 14th naturalized player for El Tri, which usually refrains from adding foreign-born players. The United States also this year added two naturalized citizens to the squad: Aron Johannsson and John Anthony Brooks.
"It shows lack of respect toward the country, not me," Gimenez said earlier this week of Dely Valdes' comment. "He said it with intent to hurt. So I got upset and I guess other people did as well, but I don’t know for sure. "
England midfielderJack Wilshere set off a debate earlier this week when he said that "the only people who should play for England are English people," when asked about the possibility of Manchester United's Adnan Januzaj representing the Three Lions.
Earlier this year, former U.S. coach Bruce Arena made similar comments in an ESPN The Magazine interview with Doug McIntyre.
"Players on the national team should be -- and this is my own feeling -- they should be Americans," Arena said. "If they’re all born in other countries, I don’t think we can say we are making progress."
The top three finishers in the CONCACAF Hex qualify outright for Brazil. The fourth-place finisher earns a chance to qualify via a playoff against New Zealand. Mexico, which sits in a precarious fifth place, has a shot at that fourth place if it can win Friday and again on Oct. 15 vs. Costa Rica.
El Tri has qualified for five straight World Cups, last missing out in 1990, when the team was banned from qualifying for using ineligible players in a junior tournament. The last time Mexico participated in qualifying and did not reach the World Cup was 1982.
Mexico’s current four-game qualifying winless streak matches its worst ever in World Cup qualifying.