Mon | Oct 23, 2017

Mexico, Panama showdown

Published:Saturday | January 24, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Central American rivals hunt CONCACAF U-20 crown

Paul Clarke, Gleaner Writer

Western
Bureau: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 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.

Qualified for World Cup

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 United States or El Salvador,
after two play-off 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 on top

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 brings 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.