September 11, 2012
Panama seeking 'venganza' against CanadaThat's Spanish for vengeance and Panama wants it
By KURTIS LARSON, QMI Agency
PANAMA CITY - Local media formed a human tunnel outside the gates of the Estadio Rommel Fernandez here Monday, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Canadians during their only training session before tonight’s World Cup qualifier.
Since Saturday — less than 24 hours after Canada earned a 1-0 win over the Central Americans in Toronto — “venganza” (Spanish for revenge) has frequented the country’s local rags, prompting one supporter to lash out when Canada arrived here late Sunday.
“You’re in Panama now,” he shouted, attempting to intimidate the visitors, who are underdogs heading into the fourth match of six third-round CONCACAF qualifiers tonight.
Although they won’t acknowledge it, Canada didn’t expect to be on seven points — one ahead of tonight’s hosts — and in prime position to advance to the region’s final round for the first time since 1998 this fall.
“I think (Panama) is beatable with the type of guys we have on the team, especially after the last couple of games,” said Julian de Guzman, who also described Canada as clear underdogs during a Spanish interview Monday. “Confidence has been continuing to build up.”
Following a 1-0 win in Cuba this summer, Canada earned a goalless draw against Honduras in June. After topping Panama at BMO Field last Friday, Canada needs four points from its final three group matches to guarantee a top-two finish and secure passage.
“Panama’s probably the most important rival in this group stage,” said de Guzman, before recognizing tonight as his most important World Cup qualifier in three cycles. “For us to come out with at least one point I think is the ultimate goal.”
But the Canadians will have to rely on wholesale changes to do it.
After starting in each of Canada’s third round qualifying matches, Will Johnson will miss tonight’s tie through yellow card accumulation and Olivier Occean didn’t travel due to injury — something that will likely test Hart’s ability to implement a new system on short notice.
“It does change things a lot,” Hart said of the absences. “I think you’ll be a little surprised.”
While pre-match training was closed for the final 45 minutes Monday, a brief glimpse through a stadium fence pointed to Canada leaning heavily on its defence, one that’s kept five consecutive clean sheets dating back to a friendly against the U.S. in June.
Although it set up in a 4-3-3 in front of home support last Friday, if Monday’s session was any indication, Hart could drop Canada into a more defensive 4-4-1-1, with more defensive minded players in Patrice Bernier and Marcel de Jong playing on the right and left side of midfield respectively.
“There are a lot of midfielders in this squad,” de Guzman said, praising Canada’s depth heading into the match. “The formation can easily change ... I think the guys who will be stepping in to replace Will and (Olivier) are definitely prepared to step it up.”
Hart said he expects Panamanian head coach Julio Dely Valdes to trot out a similar lineup to the one that ended the match in Toronto four days ago. The Central Americans overcame a poor opening half to control long stretches during the second 45 and threaten Canada’s back four on a number of occasions.
In front of more than 31,000 “Marea Roja” supporters at the Rommel Fernandez tonight, Canada knows the home side will be throwing numbers forward in an effort to reclaim top spot in a group it controlled before the weekend.
“I think you’re going to see the team (Panama) played the last 30 minutes with (at BMO Field) start,” Hart said. “It was the most offensive team they could put on the field.”
The one most capable of capturing venganza — and, once again, placing Canada in a must-win situation when qualifying resumes next month.
THE ROAD TO 2014
Battling for one of 32 spots at the 2014 World Cup, CONCACAF’s qualification process features a two-year competition that funnels 35 member nations down to four teams.
Canada entered qualifying in the second round of the region’s four-round process late last year, advancing to the third round after finishing top of a group that contained Caribbean minnows St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia and Puerto Rico.
Canada was then drawn into its current four-team third-round group alongside Panama, Honduras and Cuba.
On seven points after three of six third-round matches, Canada leads Panama by a point, followed by Honduras and Cuba, which are on four and no points respectively.
The top two finishers in Canada’s third-round group advance to CONCACAF’s “hexagonal” round, a group of six teams from which the top-three finishers automatically qualify for the next World Cup.
The fourth-place finisher in the final round will advance to face the winner from Oceania for a extra spot in Brazil.