Panama clinched the last spot among the top four teams in the CONCACAF Nations League on Tuesday with a 1-0 win over Costa Rica in San José.
The Panamanians needed a draw or a win and Jose Fajardo’s solitary goal in the 77th minute was enough to do the job, top Group B of the League A group stage and join the United States, Canada and Mexico in the semifinals.
The Panamanian national team played smart at the Costa Rican National Stadium. It pressed when it could, put fear into the counterattack and advanced the defense in moments of pressure so as not to be boxed in by the Costa Rican thrust.
Panama started the match pressing close to the home area despite their role as visitors. When Costa Rica managed to take the initiative they knew how to suffer defensively and take the game to a physical game forcing inaccuracies in the Costa Rican play.
The counterattack became the tool they used, launching Cecilio Waterman on the run in the first half without success and Fajardo when he came on in the second half with success. The forward defense in the end was key to holding the lead.
Fajardo came on in the 67th minute, headed home ten minutes later from a cross from the right and was sent off in the 88th minute for a hard foul with the iron against Adrian Martinez.
No clear plan
Costa Rica needed to win and died trying. They took the initiative from the 10th minute but without really knowing what the plan was with the ball at their feet.
Between fouls and split balls, the first half went by without either team having a clear chance.
And the second half, despite coming out of the locker room strong, was diluted in a want and can’t that ended in the front of the Panamanian area between inaccuracies and rival cuts.
To Las Vegas
With the victory, Panama is already in the ‘final four’, head-to-head elimination rounds between the best four teams that will be played next June 15 in the American city of Las Vegas.
It will be the Central Americans against three North Americans, since Canada, the United States and Mexico were the other qualifiers.
The final will be played on June 18 in the same city.