Austria became the first side in Group B to capture three points as they fought back from a goal down to beat Panama 2-1 in the Wellington rain.
Fidel Escobar’s wonder-strike had put the Europeans on the back foot, but goals either side of half-time saw Andreas Heraf’s side turn the game around, with Panama ending the game with nine men.
The match initially looked like a perfect reflection of the group standings, with little to separate the sides. Austria came close when Andreas Gruber picked out Bernd Gschweidl, but the on-rushing Jaime De Gracia snuffed out the chance.
It remained a hard-fought affair, with an Austrian free-kick clipping the post the closest the game came to a goal. That is, until a moment of magic. Escobar had already made a name for himself with a thunderbolt in the draw with Argentina, but this was arguably even better. The defender made the first shot on target in the game count, picking up an one-two and finding the top corner with a unstoppable drive.
With just a few minutes remaining in the half Austria tried to force their way level, and managed to do so a minute from the whistle. Martin Rasner’s free-kick saw defenders craning their necks to deal with it, but captain Chin Hormechea did not stretch far enough, with the ball skimming off his head and in for an own goal.
Panama had not won in 13 U-20 World Cup games coming into the match and this run was continued when Austria completed the turnaround. Gschweidl picked out Grubeck with a superb in-swinging cross and the striker only needed to flick it beyond De Gracia.
It should have been worse 13 minutes later, after Jesus Gonzalez clumsily hauled down Gruber in the area, but Florian Grillitsch’s weak effort was kept out by the Panama stopper. Two red cards in two minutes, one for Hormechea’s second yellow and the other for a diving handball by Luis Pereira, effectively ended their hopes.
De Gracia’s second penalty save kept them faintly alive, but Austria comfortably saw out the rest of the game to take a major stride towards the last 16.
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