Panama and Haiti joined USA, Mexico, Costa Rica and Jamaica as CONCACAF’s final two qualifiers for the special centennial edition of the Copa America that will be held in USA in June. CONCACAF hosted two play-off matches in Panama City, Panama on Friday evening to settle the region’s remaining berths in the competition with the hosts clashing against Cuba and Haiti taking on Trinidad and Tobago.
In the first game, Haiti qualified in dramatic style with second-half substitute Pascal Millien scoring four minutes from full time to edge the Soca Warriors 1-0. In a match where scoring chances were few and far between, Millien’s winner came after his cross was misjudged by goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams. Haiti striker Kervens Belfort could not connect with Millien’s service and the ball skipped past Williams to roll into the net, sending the Haitians into jubilant celebrations as they can now look forward to their first appearance at the Copa America.
Panama made easy work of a young Cuban side in the second match of the double-header, seeing off the islanders 4-0 in front of a delighted home crowd. Los Canaleros, who barely missed out on qualification for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, made a flying start and jumped to a 2-0 lead less than 20 minutes in courtesy of Gabriel Gomez’s fourth-minute header and Luis Tejada’s 18th minute penalty.
Armando Cooper put the game out of reach seven minutes after the break, firing home a rebound after Tejada’s initial strike was blocked by Sandy Sanchez. Blas Perez completed the scoring in the 89th minute, his header from close range sealing the result for Panama and sending the Panama City crowd into celebration.
CONCACAF’s six representatives will take on CONMEBOL’s ten Member Associations in the special edition of the Copa America, which is taking place to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the founding of CONMEBOL and the competition itself. This will also be the first time the tournament has been hosted outside of South America.