It wasn’t pretty, but Costa Rica’s national men’s football team scraped out a 2-2 tie Sunday against Panama, in Group B’s battle to the Central America Cup final on Sept. 13 in Los Angeles, California, in the United States.
Panama nearly won the match at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas, with a 90th-minute penalty called on La Sele, giving Panama’s Gabriel Gómez a free shot on goal with little time remaining. But Costa Rica’s Alajuelense goalkeeper Patrick Pemberton guessed correctly, diving right and swatting the shot wide of the goal.
Panama always is a tough rival for the Ticos, and Pemberton said going into the match that his squad wouldn’t underestimate their southeastern neighbors. However, the Canaleros had beaten La Sele only once in 10 previous Central America Cup matches.
Both teams held each other scoreless in the first half, but Panama came on strong in the second, blasting in two goals past a disorganized Costa Rican defense in minutes 50 and 69.
Costa Rica waited until the last 10 minutes of the match to mount its comeback, with La Sele newcomer Johan Venegas scoring at minute 81 and World Cup player Celso Borges nailing a penalty shot five minutes later.
Costa Rica now leads Group B with four points, followed by Panama with one. Panama will need a high-scoring game on Wednesday, when it takes on the group’s last-place team Nicaragua, whom the Ticos beat 3-0 last week.
All seven countries in Central America compete in the cup, which is taking place in the United States for the first time. The top two teams in each group secure an automatic berth to next year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup. Group A contains the remaining sides: Honduras, Belize, Guatemala and El Salvador.
AFP contributed to this report.