Panama dead serious against Canada

Panama's Felipe Baloy (left) and Atiba Hutchinson of Canada fight for possession of the ball during...

Panama's Felipe Baloy (left) and Atiba Hutchinson of Canada fight for possession of the ball during their 2014 World Cup qualifier at BMO field in Toronto. Canada defeated the visitors 1-0 and now is in Panama for the rematch tomorrow night. (AFP)

Kurtis Larson, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:37 AM ET

PANAMA CITY - With Panama’s coffin half-sealed following Canada’s breathtaking World Cup qualifying win last week in Toronto, the Central Americans are confident they’ll avoid burial tomorrow night in their nation’s capital.

“We want to remove the nail,” Panamanian head coach Julio Dely Valdes said, a comment that was pasted across the front of sports sections in the Central American nation Sunday.

After a cheeky Dwayne De Rosario strike lifted Canada to top spot in CONCACAF’s Group C last week, ahead of the return at the 32,000-seat Estadio Rommel Fernandez tomorrow night, Panama’s 1-0 loss last Friday continues to haunt the Latin country of 31/2 million.

“We cannot afford to give up (another) goal in this way,” Dely Valdes said through a translator. “I am convinced that it will not happen again.”

The goal, a moment of madness in the 77th minute at BMO Field, came when Atiba Hutchinson’s quick restart caught the Panamanian defence, and most in the stadium, napping. The creative midfielder’s quick thinking led to De Rosario’s open look at the back post that held up to produce Canada’s third positive result in three third-round qualifying matches.

On seven points following last week’s win, Canada leads Panama by a point heading into the fourth of six qualifying matches in its four-team group. Honduras and Cuba round out Group C, with four and no points respectively.

“We will try to recover first place,” Dely Valdes reiterated. “Winning (tomorrow) virtually seals passage (to the final round).”

Only the top two finishers in Canada’s group advance to the region’s six-team final round next year for a chance to qualify for the 2014 World Cup.

Although Canada controls its own destiny, with only one home match remaining against Cuba in October, head coach Stephen Hart knows earning at least a point tomorrow night will prove vital if Canada hopes to avoid needing a result when it travels to San Pedro Sula, Honduras next month.

“Of course, the situation speaks for itself,” said Hart, minutes after arriving at the team’s hotel in downtown Panama City Sunday night. “It would be nice to get some points now and not have to worry too much down the road. But every game is extremely important. Nothing is a given.”

Upon exiting their chartered flight, the Canadians were reportedly heckled at the country’s airport — something local supporters said Canada will likely see more of as match day approaches.

“(Panama) is at home where they are more comfortable,” Hart said. “They have always been very difficult to play at home. I think they will be very offensive.

Maybe we play an open game (tomorrow) — offence vs. offence,” Hart said with smile.

Not much seems to bother Canada’s bench boss at the moment.

Hart’s demenour went from reserved to relaxed after watching his side collect its fifth consecutive clean sheet last week.

So much so that he’s beginning to speak with a bit of swagger.

“It’s normal,” said Hart, when asked if he was at all concerned with reports that Panamanian supporters might camp outside Canada’s hotel tonight.

“You just have to live with it. You put on your headphones, listen to your music or whatever. Some people can wear earplugs. It’s normal.”

With local media insisting Panama has no margin for error tomorrow night, Canada’s coach expects the game environment to be one his players will remember.

“It’ll be special for Panama,” Hart joked.

 

Canadians to get American treatment?

Dutch legend Rinus Michels once described soccer as “war.”

The Panamanians are threatening to carry on the tradition.

It’s an intimidation tactic the Americans used to extract fugitive Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega from hiding in the Vatican embassy in Panama City in 1989: Blaring music to unsettle Noriega and his hosts. It worked — the strongman surrendered days later.

Now, Panamanian supporters are hoping for similar results before tomorrow night’s World Cup qualifier.

“We’ll be there,” one caller to a local radio station said Sunday, telling of his plans to gather outside Canada’s hotel and disturb the Canadians. “Seven o’clock Monday night.”

Another local supporter told the Sun that local fans usually reserve that kind of treatment for when the Americans visit, but that an exception might be made following Canada’s impressive win over Panama last week.

 


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