• Amilcar Henriquez was murdered in April 2017
  • Team-mates lamented the loss of a great player and person
  • His memory will serve as inspiration when they visit Mexico

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On 15 April 2017, Canalero international Amilcar Henriquez was gunned down at the door to his house. News of the 33-year-old defensive midfielder’s death stunned the country and plunged the national team into mourning.

One of the most carefree characters in the Marea Roja dressing room, Henriquez was also a mainstay of the side.

Nearly six months on from his untimely death, his Panama team-mates are drawing on the example he set and his memory as inspiration for their vital 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifier in Mexico on Friday.

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A true competitor and team-mate
“He got on well with everyone,” recalled Abdiel Arroyo, a former colleague of his at Panamanian club Arabe Unido. “We all loved him because he was down to earth and always smiling. And on the pitch he was a leader, a player who set the tone and never stopped fighting.”

Midfielder Armando Cooper, one of the Panama players closest to Henriquez, echoed those words: “I started out with him right by my side and he always gave me his support. He wasn’t so much a friend as a brother to me. Losing him was very painful. I loved him so much that I still can’t come to terms with it.”

Like the rest of the Panama players, Henriquez’s former room-mate Gabriel Gomez remembers exactly where he was when he heard the dreadful news.” I was playing in Colombia, against Santa Fe, and one of their players, Omar Perez, came up and told me,” said the Bucaramanga man, whose family had struck up a close bond with Henriquez and his wife and children.

“I thought he was trying to put me off my game, but when he said it to me again I realised he was being serious. I went to the dressing room and found out what had happened. My wife confirmed the news a bit later. I still can’t believe it.”

Club Deportivo Árabe Unido is a professional football club located in Colón, Panama that plays in Liga Panameña de Fútbol, the top tier of the Panamanian football pyramid. The club plays its games in Estadio Armando Dely Valdés.

Founded in 1994 by the Arab immigrants in Panama, Árabe Unido has won 13 Liga Panameña de Fútbol championships since 1998, the highest total of any team since its first edition on 1988. The club has also finished second five times since 1998.

They won the 2015 Clausura title after beating Independiente 2–1 in the season’s final, and three years after winning the 2012 championship.

A vow is made:
Panama lie fourth on seven points in the final six-team group in the CONCACAF, with Mexico out in front on 14. Victory at the imposing Estadio Azteca would thus give LosCanaleros a massive boost in their bid to reach Russia 2018.

As Eric Davis explained, the Panama players will be taking inspiration from the combative midfielder when they run out against the Mexicans. “It’s an extra source of motivation for us,” said the left-back, who described Henriquez as a role model. “If he were here, he’d give 100 percent – make no mistake. We need him. He was a great player. We have to do it for him because we know how much he wanted to go to the World Cup.”

Pinpointing what Panama need to do to keep that dream alive, Arroyo said: “Win in Mexico. We’re very committed and we know he’s watching us from up above. There could be no better tribute than getting these three points, for him, for us and for the whole country.”

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Amílcar Henríquez Espinosa (August 2, 1983 – April 15, 2017) was a Panamanian footballer.

Born in Panama City, Henríquez began his club career with local side Árabe Unido. He spent one season with Costa Rica with Santacruceña before moving to Colombia in 2009. He became an important player for Atlético Huila and joined Independiente Medellín in July 2012.  After a season back at Árabe Unido, he returned to Colombia to play for second division side Real Cartagena in December 2014.

In March 2015, Henríquez was released by Cartagena due to alleged indiscipline and in June 2015 he was snapped up by América Cali In 2016, he returned to Árabe Unido.

Henríquez made his debut for Panama in a February 2005 UNCAF Nations Cup match against El Salvador and has, as of 10 June 2015, earned a total of 85 caps, scoring no goals. He represented his country in 15 FIFA World Cup qualification matches and played at the 2007 2009 and 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cups.

His final international was a March 2017 qualification match for the 2018 FIFA World Cup against the United States.

On 15 April 2017, Henríquez was killed in his hometown of Colón in a drive-by shooting He was shot while leaving his house, two other people were also injured in the incident.

Árabe Unido decided to retire his jersey #21 in his honour.

Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
2003–2008 Árabe Unido 119 (13)
2007 Santacruceña (loan) 18 (1)
2009–2012 Atlético Huila 90 (8)
2012–2014 Independiente Medellín 64 (2)
2014 Árabe Unido 12 (1)
2015 Real Cartagena 12 (0)
2015–2016 América Cali 27 (1)
2016–2017 Árabe Unido 18 (0)
Total   360 (26)