Led by captain Freddy Adu, Thomas Rongen's USA booked their spot at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Canada with a string of fine performances in CONCACAF Group A qualifying in Panama.

Though they were held to a 0-0 draw by Guatemala in their second match, the Americans ran rampant in their opener against Haiti (4-1) and again in their final match against runners-up Panama (5-0) to finish top of the group with seven points from a three-match unbeaten run.

Resting a handful of regular starters in the opener with Caribbean islanders Haiti at the Estadio Rommel Fernandez in Panama City, Rongen's men still looked a formidable force. A hat-trick from Harvard University striker Andre Akpan paved the way as the North Americans never looked troubled in their 4-1 victory over the Haitian hopefuls.

After the game the stand-in striker and scholar was predictably pleased with his contribution. "Before the game I was really excited. I just wanted to go out there and have some impact on the game," he said, having achieved that objective.

The goal avalanche lost its momentum for the Americans in their second match on 19 January against Guatemala. Rodrigo Kenton's Central Americans, who opened their account with a 1-1 draw against hosts Panama, kept up their solid, stifling ways and held the US to a goalless draw.

But the goals came thick-and-fast again in their third and final match against hosts Panama. The contest had little meaning from a points perspective as Guatemala's dismal display in a 0-2 loss to Haiti earlier in the day meant that both the Americans and the Panamanians were already assured of a place at the world finals in Canada.

Adu opened the scoring for the US from close range in only the eighth minute and later rounded off the scoring with a fifth in the final minute of play. In between, Robbie Rogers, Johann Smith and Jonathan Villanueva all added goals of their own in an emphatic win against an erstwhile impressive Panamanian outfit.

"It's thrilling to be going to have reached another World Cup," Rongen, who led the USA to the quarter-finals at UAE 2003 , said after the match. "That was our goal before we arrived in Panama and we achieved it."

Panama progress as Guatemala stutter
Led by head coach and international legend Julio Dely Valdes, Panama's second-place finish on home soil was good enough to see the up-and-coming Central American nation finish in second-place and book passage to their third consecutive FIFA U-20 World Cup.

Their opening match on 17 January proved a physical and tense affair against Rodrigo Kenton's Guatemalans, who came into the competition with high hopes and big expectations. Indeed, it was only after going behind to a nightmarish own goal from Luis Ovalle that the hosts dug deep and levelled through Nelson Barahona to finish the contest with honours even.

In their next match with Haiti, who looked much improved since being routed by the USA in their opener, the Panamanians showed their strength and killer instinct in a 3-2 win with another goal for Barahona and a brace from Josue Jafeth Brown.

The four points were enough to see the hosts through to Canada, thanks largely to a Guatemalan collapse. After two impressive draws, the white-and-blue-clad Central Americans saw the wheels come off in their final match against already eliminated Haiti. Playing with resolute spirit, the Haitians won out thanks to two goals from Augustin Walson. The result consigned the Guatemalans to a last-place finish in the four-team group and leaves Kenton and Co with some hard questions to answer.

Two more CONCACAF sides will join the USA, Panama and hosts Canada at this summer's showpiece youth tournament. Mexico, Costa Rica, St. Kitts and Nevis and Jamaica will battle it out in Mexico in the region's Group B qualifying campaign from 21-25 February, with the top two finishers booking their places.

CONCACAF U-20 qualifying Group A
USA 7pts
Panama 4pts
Haiti 3pts
Guatemala 2pts