The 22nd of July 2013 is a day that Oscar Hinks will not forget. It began with him getting up at 5am, just as he always did, and heading out to work as an electrician on a construction site. It was then that he heard that a Panamanian footballer had been shot dead outside a nightclub in San Miguelito, one of Panama City’s more problematic neighbourhoods.
That news was disturbing enough, but worse was to follow. “Did you hear about your national-team colleague, Miguel Lasso?” a co-worker asked him. “They shot him dead.” Nothing has been quite the same for Hinks since then.
“I just couldn’t believe it,” the defender said in an interview with FIFA.com just hours before their debut outing at the FIFA Futsal World Cup Colombia 2016. “Miguel had never had any problems. He was one of the few people around at the time who made a living from football. All he thought about was the game.”
Panama’s vice-captain, Hinks spent hours on the phone talking to his team-mates. Their memories of the 2012 CONCACAF Championship, where Lasso top-scored with six goals, and the World Cup in Thailand that year, where Los Canaleros reached the last 16, seemed so unreal to them.
“Everyone had a different version of what happened to him, but it didn’t change anything: Miguel was gone,” added Hinks. “It hurt so much because we were the same age, we made our international debut together in 2006 and we were very close. We dreamed of playing abroad for the good of our families. But God had something else in mind for him.”
Describing what his late friend was like off the pitch, Hinks said: “He was always smiling, but he was shy too. He let his feet do the talking. He was himself with the people closest to him, but he always offered encouragement to everyone else. He didn’t like people to be sad.”
We had to carry on and get back out there on the court and dedicate every goal to him.
Oscar Hinks, Panama defender, reflecting on the death of Miguel Lasso.
Hinks added that no one mourned Lasso’s passing more than Carlos Perez, a member of the Panama squad at Thailand 2012: “Carlos is married to Miguel’s sister and they’d played together their whole lives. He’s even got a tattoo of him. It was important that we supported him and supported each other.”
As Hinks went on to recall, the national team’s first training session after Lasso’s death was a challenging experience: “None of us were on the same wavelength at all. In purely footballing terms, it was a very tough blow for us to overcome. We said to each other that we didn’t have another forward like him or someone who could get us out of a tight spot the way he did with his set-pieces and penalties. We told ourselves that we had to carry on, though, and get back out there on the court and dedicate every goal to him.”
Lasso has been a source of inspiration for Hinks and his team-mates in every match and competition they have contested since then, not least this year’s CONCACAF Championship, which doubled up as the regional qualifiers for Colombia 2016.
“There was a moment or two when we thought that we couldn’t do it without Miguel, but then we promised to do it for him,” explained Hinks, who went on to recall the importance a highly charged half-time team talk in the group match against Mexico: “If we’d lost we were out, and we were 2-0 down at the interval. Our heads were all down, and I said: ‘Let’s get back out there with our heads held high and do our job for Miguel. He wouldn’t like to see you like this’. We came back to win 6-2 and here we are.”
Hinks, who will turn 31 during the World Cup, has given up his job as an electrician and now spends his time playing both futsal and the 11-a-side game, in which he runs out as a central defender for Municipal San Miguelito in the Panamanian second division. An admirer of respective Spanish futsal and football legends Kike and Sergio Ramos, he is a physical player who likes to make himself heard on the court.
Voicing his opinion on Panama’s group in Colombia, in which they will face the tournament hosts, Portugal and Uzbekistan, he said: “We’re used to tough groups and matches. It’s better that way. God makes it harder for the brave. In 2012 we came up against Iran, Spain and Morocco and we still went through. Our objective is to do even better than we did then and make the quarter-finals.”
Hinks is convinced Panama will have an extra man at Colombia 2016: “Miguel Lasso will always be with us.”