My friends at the cafeteria at work alerted me that Panamá had advanced to the semifinals of the UNCAF tournament. They played Honduras last night and would play the winner of the Costa Rica-Guatemala match if they advanced. I Tivo'd the game off Galavision and watched it this afternoon.
Panamá's got a pretty good team. They controlled the midfield most of the game and attacked relentlessly. However, they failed to convert scoring opportunities into goals. At one point the announcer, with the score still 0-0 in the second half, said Panamá should easily have a 3 goal lead. There were two plays where the Panamanian was all alone one-on-one in front of the Honduran goalie and missed. There was another play, off a corner kick, where the Honduran goalie miraculously came up with the stop at the goal -- literally, another inch back and the ball would have been over the line for a goal. Panama also got screwed by some questionable calls. The penalty for a high kick -- the Panamanian stood there and nearly got his head kicked off, but the officially got it backwards and awarded Honduras the free kick -- didn't hurt Panamá, but the offsides call late in the game killed them. Panamá was down 1-0 and got the ball to its second best player, Medina, all alone in front of the goalie. The side judge did not raise the offsides flag, but the referee trailing the play whistled offsides, killing Panamá's last scoring opportunity. Panamá should have won, outshooting Honduras something like 18 to 6; but as the announcer repeatedly pointed out, there's no justice in soccer: it all comes down to who scores the goals, not who plays the better game.
It was an exciting game nonetheless, probably the most exciting non-World Cup game I've seen. Panamá's got an up-and-coming team. They won the sub-20 championship recently and made a strong showing in the UNCAF. It's doubtful, though, that they'll be one of CONCACAF's representatives in the next World Cup, though, since they failed to reach the finals. Tis a pity: by 2006 they could be ready to make a splash. I have no doubts they'll be in South Africa for 2010's Cup, though. Panamanian soccer has come a long way.