Nahki Wells has challenged his Bermuda team-mates to prove they are “not out of their depth” in the top tier of the Concacaf Nations League.
Bermuda started their League A campaign with a 4-1 defeat at home to Panama in group B on Thursday and face the Central Americans in the reverse fixture at the Rommel Fernández Stadium tomorrow.
With two daunting fixtures against Mexico still to come, and the bottom-placed team from each group facing relegation, Wells admits Bermuda have a mountain to climb if they are to retain their League A status.
They secured a top seat at the table by finishing fifth in the Nations League qualifiers and showed real progress at the Gold Cup, suffering narrow defeats to Haiti and Costa Rica before defeating Nicaragua.
“We’ve come a long way, there’s no denying that, and we deserve to be here” Wells told The Royal Gazette. “Are we out of our depth a little bit? Only time will tell.
“We have nothing to lose as Panama are expected to win and have a lot more experience. They’re a dominant team in the region.”
Although Wells believes the scoreline was not a fair reflection of how the team played, he admits they were guilty of naïve defending and concentration lapses and must tighten up if they are to avoid another heavy loss.
“There were positives and a lot of negatives,” he said. “The result was obviously a negative and the mistakes we made to concede the goals were a negative. We can’t deny that Panama are a good side but looking back on the game, I don’t think that was a 4-1 defeat and those are the small things that we can take from the game.
“They deserved to win, but it felt like it should have been one or two goals in it. I still feel we could have got another goal.
“We showed for periods that we could handle them and cause them problems. We probably lacked that extra pass and could have been a bit more clinical [in front of goal].”
Wells is adamant Bermuda should have been awarded a penalty after he appeared to be shoved over when bearing down on goal during the first half.
It proved to be a pivotal flashpoint in the game, with Panama immediately breaking down the other end of the pitch to score the opener through Gabriel Torres.
“I don’t know why the referee [Raul Zuniga] hasn’t given a penalty,” Wells added. “[The defender] hasn’t touched the ball, there was clear contact and I haven’t gone across his path.
“In football, you go down when there’s contact in the box. You try and stand up, shoot, and you can’t because he’s touched your legs, you miss, and it’s a goal kick.
“Ninety-nine per cent of those get given and, unfortunately, he hasn’t given it. Less than a minute later, we don’t touch the ball, and they go down the other end and score. It was a pivotal point and we could have been a goal up.”
Bermuda levelled through an own goal by Harold Cummings, but were once again punished for slack defending, with Rolando Blackburn tapping home at the back post to restore Panama’s lead.
“We showed vulnerability and a lack of experience in those situations and should have managed it better,” Wells said.
“There was a lot of silly errors and wasn’t just the defenders.”
Ominously for Bermuda, Américo Gallego, the Panama coach, expects his team to be far more dominant on home turf in tomorrow’s match, which kicks off at 10pm Bermuda time.
“The most important thing is that we won and it sends a big message to the group,” said Gallego, who won the World Cup with Argentina in 1978.
“We had a lot of big obstacles in the way and trained for just two days before the game. The win was key and I think the match will be much more smooth on Sunday.”