Know Your Enemy: Panama (Home Edition)

Rather than pretend as though I had any particularly deep insight on the Panamanians I thought it more pertinent to have a closer look at the last meeting in last year's Gold Cup, then share a few thoughts on what to expect from Panama and what Canada should do.

My apologies for the less-polished nature of this piece and the first person nature, time is of the essence.

First up, for your listening pleasure. Open in a seperate window as you read on.

Scouting - Gold Cup Match

A shock 1-2 win over the USA meant that Panama would be through with a draw; with that in mind they made several changes to the starting lineup for a match against a Canadian side that was very similar to the one they will face this evening; albeit one shorn of their best player, Atiba Hutchinson, who was absent with injury.

The lineups and rough formations for the match.

football formations

Luis Mejia stood in for Jaime Penedo between the sticks, the impressive Nelson Barahona was rested, the feisty Armando Cooper would only come on as a substitute, as would all-time top-scorer Luis Tejada; all had featured extensively in their first two matches.

Canada wasted several early chances - that profligacy that has cost them recently was evident back then: Nik Ledgerwood sliced a right-footer from 35 yards, latching onto a half-cleared header in the 4th minute; Simeon Jackson outpaced the Panamanian centre-backs down the right-channel after Julian de Guzman forced a turnover in midfield, but his attempt rasped just wide of the top left corner of the goal; Dwayne De Rosario neatly played de Guzman down the right-side of the box, but his tight angle shot was stood up to well by the keeper; Josh Simpson had a run at goal after de Guzman forced another turnover, this time down the left-side; and De Rosario could only find the side netting after Simpson had played him down the left-flank.

They really should have had a couple after the first half-hour of play, but recall, Canada only managed to score two goals in their three matches at the tournament - both came from the spot and both were by De Rosario.

The Panamanians were content to clog up the middle of the park and look for chances to counter. Gabriel Gomez and Eybir Bonaga were not interested in getting forward, preferring to leave that responsibility to the wide midfielders cutting in and the running of the outside backs, Luis Henriquez on the right in particular, to provide any sort of attack.

Blas Perez was dropping from his striking position into the hole, looking for space and to provide a central option, while Luis Renteria was doing his best to pressure the ball by running down defenders.

Panama came out a little sharper in the second half, but a wasted pass from Alberto Quintero foiled a good chance for Perez in the opening ten minutes.

Canada weathered that storm and took the lead in the 61st minute. De Rosario, from a starting point in the middle of the park, pushed the ball out to de Guzman wide on the right then made a beeline for the goal.

Julian's cross to the back-post was met by Simpson and headed back into the middle of the box, De Rosario, arriving on the scene, was bowled over from behind by Bonaga and the referee pointed to the spot.

Dwayne stepped up himself, calmly sent the keeper diving the wrong way - to his left - and slotted the ball in the opposite direction. It was a confident hit; shake-and-bake indeed, my friend.

The Panamanians, now in need of some offense began to ring in changes: Cooper came on for Quintero in the 65th - shortly thereafter a Renteria-chance was swiped away from the top corner by Milan Borjan; Tejada came on for Renteria in the 70th - Canada dropped off and invited further pressure on.

With Panama pressing, further chances came the way of the Canadians. A giveaway allowed Jackson to streak in alone down the right, but he rushed his chance and dragged his shot wastefully wide of the left-post. Fresh legs in the form of Tosaint Ricketts came on for Simpson in an effort to stem the flow.

Then de Guzman sweetly struck a volley from outside the box - the technique, superb - but it went straight at the keeper. Julian was all over the place in the final half-hour, trying to will his teammates out of the shell they kept dropping into.

Panama made their final substitution - Anibal Godoy for Bonaga - and that's when things began to go wrong. Feeling the pressure Borjan began to overexert himself in chasing for the ball. He came out and completely whiffed on one chance.

Canada made a second sub, perhaps an ill-advised one, removing Johnson and bringing on Pedro Pacheco.

Borjan against came out and missed the ball, but was saved by the whistle of the referee for a slight bit of contact from an attacker.

Pacheco looked out of the flow of the match - it was a difficult situation to enter, up against it - and what was likely a time-wasting move was negated when the centre official usher a displeased looking Johnson off at the end-line to expedite the change.

It was Pacheco who was beat by Cooper down the right-side, getting a low cross off towards the centre that led to the fateful corner kick as the clock struck ninety and the fourth official held up the sign for three further minutes of stoppage time.

A lazily in-swinging left-footed delivery from Eric Davis was headed clear - by Hainault I believe, but only to the top of the box. It was poked back in by the lurking Gomez, ricocheted off Perez - handball! Handball! No it was his chest - and fell conveniently to Eduardo Dasent, the centre-back now stationed by the left-post. His reaction stab smacked off the bar and the danger seemed to have passed, only for the latest sub, Godoy, to latch onto it and send a meek attempt on goal past the out of sorts Pacheco.

The ball agonizingly squeezed through the maze of Borjan - arms and legs and all - and Tejada, of all people, was on hand to provide the necessary final touch with Perez also lurking nearby if needed.

Borjan got crunched in the scuffle, rolling around physically expressing the agony felt by all the Canadians, but the goal stood.

Let's have none of that tonight.

Previous Matches in Qualifying

Panama breezed through the second round of qualification, topping a three-team group with Nicaragua and Dominica undefeated and they opened the third round with a high-energy and potentially crucial win in Honduras.

It was a much tighter affair than the score-line indicated with both sides squandering early chances. Cooper was sent in alone for the Panamanians, but was thwarted by a big save from the Honduran keeper, Noel Valladares.

Blas Perez opened the scoring in the 65th with a stunning finish, taking a touch while turning to set himself up on the half-volley and blasting it past the frozen keeper with his right-boot on the right-side of the box. An indication of just how dangerous he can be if given time, space, and the ball.

Honduras pushed forward in search of an equalizer and had plenty of chances - a tight-angled free kick from the right was pushed onto the bar; a diving header, poorly connected with, from a right-sided cross went straight at Penedo in goal; and a left-sided cross to the back-post was headed back into the middle for, it appeared to be, Carlo Costly, but the big front-man could not get a final touch on the ball.

Perez added a second goal in the 80th minute, flicking a right-side Marcos Sanchez cross beyond the reach of the keeper to the far-side of the goal. The keeper got a touch to it, but couldn't keep it out.

Then Panama had a chance to extend their lead from the spot, but Valladares stood tall, saving both the initial attempt and the rebound. But it was too late for heroics and Panama won 0-2.

In their second match, what should have been a stroll was turned into a tight win over Cuba by a fine goalkeeping performance from Odiesnel Cooper and Panamanian wastefulness in front of goal.

After squandering several clear chances some brilliant passing opened the scoring in the 57th minute. A series of one-twos, between Barahona, Perez, and Renteria worked the bleach-blonde Barahona into the right-side of the box, where he placed a right-footed finish across the keeper to the far, top-corner of the goal.

This match could have easily turned into a draw despite the apparent imbalance in power. A Cuban forward beat the Panamanian keeper to a left-sided cross, but his flick on drifted inches wide of the far-post, leaving the Panamanian defense looking at each other, sighing relief. Then a dramatic clearance off the line - well a little further out than that, but still - in the final phase of the match from Jean Carlos Cedeno preserved the 1-0 win.

Panama Lineup Notes

Several players from the Gold Cup are not with the current squad; with head coach Julio Dely Valdes opting to usher in some new, youthful faces.

In all likelihood, Panama will look to shutout the game and possibly hit on the counter as they did at the Gold Cup. They have stated they intend to come here and win, but in reality, it suits them better to hope for a win and play for a draw rather than risk opening up in Toronto.

A look at their recent friendly match against Portugal could provide a glimpse of their lineup, well, at least the expected two banks of four. The match was all about finding their shape and maintaining it under a barrage - practice which should come in handy if they intend to bunker.

Penedo in goal; from right to left - Roman Torres, Felipe Baloy, Jean Carlos Cedeno, and Luis Henriquez across the back; Nelson Barahona, Gabriel Gomez, Juan Perez and MarcosSanchez across the midfield. Edwin Aguilar and Alberto Quintero started up top, but they will likely be replaced by Blas Perez and another striker - none of Perez, Cooper, or Tejada even travelled with the side.

A 2-0 loss to the Portuguese, especially having been reduced to ten-men when Gomez was sent off, is nothing to sneeze at.

I expect Cooper to start ahead of Tejada, with his younger legs being more useful in closing down space in what should be a fairly defensive output; expect Tejada to come on in the second half, especially if looking for a goal.

Be sure to check out Partially Obstructed View for some random notes on Panama from the newsround and perhaps a bit of daydreaming about what I would like to see from Canada; both should be up later today.

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