Panama pulled off something of an upset, in holding Fifa U-20 World Cup title contenders Argentina to a 2-2 draw at Wellington Regional Stadium.
Argentina had been expected to dominate the Group B encounter on Saturday, but Panama’s resilience was a feature of the match.
Maybe it was the players’ desperation to keep warm, but this was a lively (if damp) affair from the get-go.
Panama started the better, with Jhamal Rodriguez looking dangerous. Argentina were the team with the big tournament pedigree, plus a couple of likely lads in captain Angel Correa of Atletico Madrid and Giovanni Simeone, whose dad Diego is manager of the Spanish giants.
So when Argentina’s first decent opportunity did come, in the 14th minute, it was no shock to see Correa convert it. Tomas Martinez got away down the right and whipped decent ball into the box where Correa met it first time, powering it past Panama’s goalkeeper Jaime De Gracia to make it 1-0.
It was a quality finish which confirmed Correa’s lofty reputation.
But anything he could do, Rodriguez could do better. And he did, five minutes later, burying a shot from distance to make it 1-1.
Rodriguez picked the ball up about 30 metres from goal and, with none of the Argentine defence looking to close him down, unleashed a rocket that swerved into the top right corner of the net. Goalkeeper Augusto Batalla showed himself to be a decent shot-stopper later in the match, but had no chance of saving Rodriguez’s equaliser.
The teams went to halftime still locked at 1-1, before Batalla was in the action again, making a magnificent 47th minute save.
The game went nowhere for 25 minutes until De Gracia twice denied Correa from close range. Argentina then began a period of domination and it seemed as if the winning goal was only moments away.
It appeared to arrive in the 79th minute, and from you-know-who as well. Argentina caught Panama on the break, De Gracia burst off his line and when the ball, inevitably, found its way into Correa’s path he side-footed it into the empty net to put his team 2-1 up.
Again, though, the advantage was short-lived, as Fidel Escobar’s 84th-minute shot made it 2-2. Panama were in ecstasy, although not for long. A minute later Carlos Small was through one-on-one with Batalla and couldn’t hit the target.
It was an unbelievably good opportunity, but Small curled his effort the wrong side of the right post.
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