Women's World Cup

Panama's Marta Cox reflects on her nation's World Cup debut amid death of mom

Panama star Marta Cox has guided her nation to its first ever appearance in a Women’s World Cup in 2023, but personal challenges during the run made it strenuous

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Glory can often be accompanied by pain. Pain no one sees behind the curtains.

That’s the case with Marta Cox. The 25-year-old Panamanian has become a rising star in women’s football over the last few years, but the adventure hasn’t been all tulips and roses.

Cox, a Panama City native, was born in 1997. Her first stint with the Panama women’s national team came with the Under-17 side in 2011 – as a 14-year-old. The talent had been evident and brewing for some time, and she made her senior debut with the Panama side in 2013, five years before her senior club debut in 2018 with Colombian side Deportes Quindio.

In July of 2021, Cox signed with Club Leon of Liga MX Femenil, making her the first foreign player to join the team. Now with Liga MX’s Pachuca on the club side, Cox made significant strides for her country by helping them qualify for the 2023 Women’s World Cup. It marks the first time in the team’s history they will compete in the quadrennial tournament, with the men’s national team making their World Cup debut in 2018. 

It’s been a positive five-year span for the nation in that regard, with Cox playing a pivotal role for the women’s team – including a chilena (bicycle kick) goal in World Cup qualifying that eventually helped them become the 32nd and final nation to qualify for the Australia and New Zealand-hosted tournament. 

Qualifying for the World Cup has been a significant personal achievement for Cox, and even more so for the country of Panama. Now that it is in the tournament, it’ll open more eyes on the importance of investing in women’s football.

“For me it has already taken the blindfold off a lot of people,” Cox said on NBC’s “My New Favorite Futbolista” podcast. “I think that many companies too…they are not afraid to invest in women's football because there really is talent. In other words, it fills the player's expectation that they feel supported in that way, that they can say the League in Panama is growing.”

The qualification also helps for player development. Instead of having to leave elsewhere for better opportunities to develop as a player, rising youngsters can stay in Panama and come up.

“It's not that I have to leave Panama to grow up,” Cox said. “No, because today we are putting our country up high.”

But though Cox helped make her country proud in an immense way, behind the glory came a lot of pain. Specifically, Cox recently went through her mom’s death, a relationship she described as “beautiful.”

“The relationship that I had with my mother before she died…it was very beautiful, was very pleasant,” Cox said. “My mom always has been there for me and so far I will always carry it in my heart.”

But Cox also found solace in how much she gave back to her mom through her journey.

“I know that in life I gave everything to my mom and with that I am calm and I will always be calm.” 

Cox said she couldn’t necessarily turn to her father, either, since he is in detention. She hasn’t seen him in four years, with her mom’s death occurring almost a year ago. 

She described her relationship with her father as not “that extensive” due to their separation, so a lot of her life has been a story of “overcoming.” 

Having to navigate the path of carving a successful career in women’s football from Panama without ample parental support in recent times has certainly been challenging for Cox, but she will continue to be there for her father despite the distance. 

“I mean, I love him, I support him in the best way,” Cox said. “I will always talk about what is beautiful about him, because I feel that he has been a good father and my mom was the nice thing too, but today he is not there and he is going to have to take my mom's flag of being [there] for me. 

“I think that my father will do everything for the time being and will continue to do everything and as long as he is alive I know that he will do his best for me.” 

Now, Cox is gearing up to represent Panama in a group comprising Brazil, France and Jamaica. It’ll be an arduous task to advance past two top-ten nations in Brazil and France, but Cox is ready more than ever to represent her country.

“This is happiness,” Cox said. “But for me it's a privilege to wear the flag of my country on my chest and be in a World Cup surrounding the best national teams in the world. I think that it's the best thing that could happen to me in my career because getting to a World Cup isn't easy, it's quite difficult. But being there it’s time to enjoy it.” 

Listen to the full conversation with Panama star Marta Cox on NBC and Telemundo’s “My New Favorite Futbolista” podcast.

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