After 120 minutes and penalty kicks to decide the winner I am still not sure if I enjoyed this match or suffered through it.
There was action and incidents but many of the incidents were of an unsavoury nature and the action was often a product of an inability to perform some of the most basic of tasks.
El Salvador will feel with justification that they threw away a glorious opportunity to make it to the last four. For much of regulation time the Salvadorans were quicker of thought and of foot as they made Panama look ponderous and heavy-legged.
Defensively the partnership of Anaya and Portland Timbers Steve Purdy did a masterful job of controlling the twin Panamanian threat of Tejada and Perez.
In attack they buzzed around the Panama defenders drawing free kicks in dangerous positions but failed to capitalize.
Zelaya was a constant menace to the Panama back four but he failed miserably to give his team the lead after being awarded a very soft penalty kick. But it didn’t stop him stepping up when El Salvador was awarded another in the second half and this time he put it away with great power.
With only twelve minutes remaining and leading 1-0 El Salvador should have been able to see the game out. To that point they had frustrated Panama when they gained possession, constantly making the Panama attackers work hard to get past them or by taking away the easy passing lanes and only offering more risky options.
Any set plays offered to Panama were poorly executed and extremely wasteful. With a clear advantage in height the deliveries failed to hit the mark and El Salvador dealt with the majority with ease.
But the El Salvador goal stung Panama coach Julio Dely Valdes into action and Godoy and Quintero replaced Gomez and Cooper. It was a decision that changed the flow of the game as Panama started to assert themselves with their power and strong running.
The equalizer was controversial and the replay offered up was inconclusive. Suffice to say that given the flow of play the referee’s assistant should have been ideally placed to decide whether all the ball had actually crossed the El Salvador goal-line.
Before extra time could get underway Panama and El Salvador each had a player dismissed. Perez for Panama and Anaya for El Salvador but once again the viewers were kept in the dark as the cameras failed to catch the incident.
With the exception of a goal mouth scramble at the Panama end in the dying seconds of the game the two periods of extra time were dominated by Panama but no more goals were scored.
Panama went 5 for 5 on the penalties while El Salvador missed their first effort.
The big winners though were the USA as Panama now travel to Houston to play the semi final after 120 minutes of exertion and minus a key player in Blas Perez.
Man of the Match – he only came on as a late substitute but Anibal Godoy was instrumental in turning the match Panama’s way and he potted a penalty as well. Godoy is with Sparta Prague and I would suggest is a player to keep an eye open for.
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