Panama Shakes Up the Copa America with Its Victory Against the United States

Panama vs United States
Panama vs United States (Credit: Getty Images)

After 90 minutes that will be celebrated for days – or weeks, or months, or years – in Panama, the United States learned the hard way that for now, it has the framework but that it still lacks the painting. The organizing country of Copa America 2024 offers impressive stadiums, which in turn arouse criticism for the poor state of the grass and the meager measurements of the playing fields, but the local team is still far from the first world of football. At the moment of truth, with the ball in play, the Panamanians reversed the initial disadvantage on Thursday night in Atlanta and took a surprising 2-1 victory. The result leaves the United States groggy, on the ropes, forced to risk everything against Uruguay on the last date to avoid what would be a resounding failure: elimination in the first round.

Also Read: Cristiano Ronaldo was About to be Hit by a Fan who Jumped From the Crowd to Get to Him

Goals by Cesar Blackman in the first half and Jose Fajardo seven minutes from the end gave Panama its first three points in Group C of the Cup after the second match. The United States also has three points and is still in second place on goal difference, but the last match seems favorable to the Panamanians, who on Monday will face what is supposed to be the weakest rival in the group, Bolivia. Still without tradition, although with notable progress in recent years at the Concacaf level, the Americans may also learn that soccer is the sport of betrayed predictions.

A symbol of modern football, the VAR, in charge of Nicaraguan Tatiana Guzman, was decisive in three actions, all resolved correctly: it disallowed a goal by the United States for offside in the 4th minute, decided to expel local Timothy Weah for assault in the 17th and revoked a penalty for simulation in favor of Panama, already 20 minutes into the second half. Perhaps the only decision made on his own by Salvadoran referee Iván Barton was the second red card, the one he showed to Panamanian Adalberto Carrasquilla near the end when his team was already winning 2-1.

Even though the result was a blow to Gregg Berhalter’s team, the match was so entertaining that it served to encourage the Americans who filled the stadium — and those who followed it on television before the first debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump — to continue their slow but progressive enthusiasm for football, which is less and less soccer. If the United States managed, through economic and political reasons, to get FIFA and Conmebol to grant it the organization of all the important tournaments — this Copa America will be followed in 2025 by the Club World Cup and, of course, in 2026 by the World Cup for national teams — and even the MLS hired Lionel Messi, the national team is on the opposite path, that of export: it is made up of “European” footballers.

For the starting lineup against Panama, coach Berhalter chose six representatives from the English Premier League (including the entire defense), three from Italian football, one from the German Bundesliga, and one from France’s Ligue 1. However, the home-field advantage and representation in historic clubs (Juventus, Milan, and Nottingham Forest, among others) were useless in controlling the match against a supposedly inferior opponent. On the contrary: Panama, another team without players with a presence in its own league (some of its boys earn their living in the Faroe Islands, the Second Division of Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Israel, Slovakia, and Ukraine) took control of the ball for most of the night, to the point that it ended with a 73% to 27% advantage in possession.

Surely Panama will never become a signature team, but from the first seconds the style – or above all the intention – of its coach, Thomas Christiansen, a Spaniard of Danish origin who was coached by Johan Cruyff, was evident from the first seconds. With the good footing of Carrasquilla (the only MLS player of the 22 starters, from Houston Dynamo FC) in the midfield and the Latin talent of Cristian Martínez (from the Arab promotion, in Al Jandal) in the creation zone, the Panamanians always looked straight at the goal defended by Matt Turner in the first half and, after his replacement due to injury at half-time, by Ettan Horvarth in the second half.

It is true that the expulsion of the son of Liberian George Weah for unusual aggression when the ball was in the middle of the field left the United States with one less player from the 17th minute, but almost immediately a left-footed shot from Folarin Balogun followed for the 1-0 that will possibly end up on the podium of the best goals of the Copa America. Christiansen’s team, which had already lost 3-1 to Uruguay, could have resigned and accepted an early elimination, but instead, it took the best of that debut – for a few minutes it dominated Marcelo Bielsa’s team – and little by little it began to feel like a local as if the match were being played in Panama City.

It was only natural that Cesar Blackman’s goal came in the 26th minute to tie the game. However, far from being satisfied with the draw – which, admittedly, left them with poor prospects for qualifying for the quarterfinals – Panama never stopped attacking, as if it was their need but also their DNA. The United States, on the other hand, opted for the draw when there was still a long way to go, a conservative stance that could have been understood against a rival with greater historical weight but that was disappointing against Panama.

Christiansen’s offensive search was rewarded: two of the players who entered in the second half, both in South American football, Abdiel Ayarza (Cienciano of Peru) sent the umpteenth cross for Fajardo (Universidad Catolica of Chile) to convert the 2-1 that gave Panamanian football one of the best triumphs in its history, while the United States paid for its football greed. The opulence, for now, has not come down to the field.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *