Mexico, Panama showdown - Central American rivals hunt CONCACAF U-20 crown
Mexico drew their last CONCACAF Group B match 1-1 against Haiti here in Montego Bay on Thursday, but that was simply seen as a weakened team picked mainly to rest several top players ahead of tonight’s big clash in the championship final against Panama at 8 o'clock.
The two-time defending champions waltzed through the group stage of the competition with not so much of a hiccup. But many think they will have to be at their best to stop sizzling Panama, who are yet to concede a goal in five matches.
“This team plays well together; each game we do something better. But I think the challenge for this Mexico team has, is to continue challenging ourselves. We want to keep getting better with each moment and that is what we want to bring against Panama,” Mexican coach Sergio Almaguer said.
As a result of winning their respective groups, the two countries qualified directly to the FIFA Under-20 World Cup to be staged in New Zealand from May 30-June 20 this year.
The two finalists could be joined in New Zealand by Guatemala or Honduras, the Unites States or El Salvador, after two playoff games at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. respectively.
These three matches are all compelling in their own right, but the prospect of the super impressive Panama going head-to-head with the mighty Mexico is simply mouth-watering.
After five matches each there is little difference between the two group winners.
Panama topped Group A with maximum 15 points, scoring nine goals without conceding. Mexico, meanwhile, marched through Group A for 13 points, scoring twice the number of goals as Panama, 18, but have conceded three. Their only blemish is the 1-1 draw with Haiti, and even so, that was a game they should have won easily.
That Panama hold the edge is no foregone conclusion, as explained by Leonardo Pipino, Panama’s head coach.
“To face Mexico is gratifying; it is an honour to face them because they are a great team that prepares to be world champions, not just to be in a World Cup but to win a World Cup, whereas we hope mostly to get to a World Cup, maybe getting to the next round.
“It will be a good test to face Mexico heading to the World Cup, and I hope we do well, but they are a very strong and difficult team,” Pipino said.
Tonight’s final bring the curtain down on two weeks of taxing and in some cases engrossing football action in Kingston and Montego Bay and would have signalled another impressive hosting of top level football right here in Jamaica.