The USA had to work hard to keep up their record as the only side ever to qualify for every instalment of the FIFA U-17 World Cup, requiring extra-time on Tuesday to down a rugged El Salvador in the quarter-finals of the CONCACAF qualifying tournament in Montego Bay, Jamaica.
A foul-littered regular time ended 1-1 after Alejandro Guido’s fourth-minute opener for the USA was cancelled out by Jose Pena just five minutes later. The extra-time period proved as eventful as regular time was laboured, with the USA’s star performer Marc Pelosi taking control of proceedings. He set up Mario Rodriguez in the 95th minute and then made it 3-1 himself, finishing off a fine bit of approach work by Guido.
This is a big moment for Panama and I am proud of my players.
Salvadoran ace Gerardo Iraheta pulled one back from the spot to make it 3-2 in the fading moments, but the USA – the better team on the day – never looked like conceding a late equaliser. The tense contest saw three late sendings off and produced no less than 52 fouls.
Hurrah for Panama
Panama surprised Costa Rica in the earlier quarter-final at the Montego Bay Sports Complex to reach the semi-finals of the CONCACAF qualifiers and, in the process, booked their passage to the 2011 FIFA U-17 World Cup this June and July in Mexico.
The balanced quarter-final was eventually decided by Alfredo Stevens, who scored the only goal of the contest in the 76th minute to put former playing idol Jorge Dely Valdes’s side into the junior world finals for the first time in their history. Panama, whose strike against the fancied Costa Ricans had a decidedly fortuitous feel to it, only squeaked into the last eight after losing to the USA and drawing 0-0 with Cuba in the group stage.
"This is a big moment for Panama and I am proud of my players," said coach Dely Valdes. "Now we have to focus on the next game and see what we can do."
Two more sides from the CONCACAF region will stamp their tickets to Mexico tomorrow when Canada take on Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica host Honduras.