Panama beat the odds and won the Central American Soccer Union championship Sunday, besting Costa Rica in the final match 5-3 on penalty kicks after the teams tied 0-0 in regulation.
Three of the seven teams in the annual tournament – Honduras, Costa Rica and El Salvador – entered the games last weekend, looking to prep themselves for the next and final round of World Cup qualifiers that begins next week.
But it was Panama who stole the show. First, they stunned hosts Honduras by beating them 1-0 in their semi-final match, sending them into the final against Costa Rica, the defending tournament champions who had beaten Panama easily 3-0 the week before in group play.
This time around, though Panama was able to hold Costa Rica scoreless through 90 minutes of regular time play. Once the final whistle blew, the game went directly into penalty kicks, foregoing the usual overtime.
All five Panamanian players made their shots, but the third Tico shooter missed his, giving Panama the championship.
The tournament championship is a bittersweet victory for Panama, who were knocked out of World Cup qualifying in early bracket round play by El Salvador late last spring.
El Salvador, for their part, made an ignominious exit in their semi-final game against Costa Rica on Friday. Two Salvadoran players, including star striker Eliseo Quintanilla, received red cards in the first 25 minutes of play, leaving their team with nine men on the field. Tico striker Andy Furtado slipped in a goal in the 18th minute, his third of the tournament in as many games.
As the half went on, it only got worse for the cuscatlecos as players went off the field injured, and they quickly used up their allotment of substitutions. By the 60th minute, with a full half hour left to play, the team decided they´d had enough and forfeited the match.
Although Costa Rica was only up 1-0 when the game was called, the game was scored 3-0, which is the default score for a forfeited game, per FIFA regulations.
Honduras beat El Salvador 1-0 in the third-place consolation game earlier Sunday afternoon.
La Sele´s loss Sunday ends its nine-game winning streak, and the eight-game streak for Head Coach Rodrigo Kenton. Both streaks tied national team records.
Costa Rica, currently ranked 47th internationally by FIFA, will host Honduras, ranked 40th, on Feb. 11 on the opening day for the region´s final World Cup qualifying round.