PANAMA CITY - Goals on each side of halftime lifted La Roja to a convincing 2-0 win in Panama on Tuesday night, putting Canada's chances of advancing to CONCACAF's final round of qualifying for the first time since 1998 in jeopardy.
Failing to meet the overwhelming energy the Panamanians played with from start to finish, the home side's Blas Perez and Rolando Blackburn provided the game's only goals in a match the Canadians were shell-shocked in from start to finish.
"I couldn't answer that," said Canadian head coach Stephen Hart, when asked why Canada failed to meet Panama's energy. "I don't know how they slept last night ... A lot of players looked lethargic."
Feeding off the astounding energy at the national stadium, Canada withstood the Panamanians throwing numbers forward early, preventing the home side from taking the deafening noise inside the venue up a level.
With Panama on the attack five minutes in, the lights in the northwest corner of the stadium went black, causing a 15-minute delay. The opening moments then turned into a nightmare for the Canadians, who watched leading scorer Dwayne De Rosario limp off during the pause with a potential knee injury.
The blackout appeared to give the Canadians a moment to regroup. Following the stoppage, Marcel de Jong found space up the left wing before lacing a grass-cutter that just missed a sliding Simeon Jackson at the back post.
But the advantage was short-lived.
Turning Canada's back four into Swiss cheese most of the night, Panama's Alberto Quintero provided the home side its first quality chance 25 minutes in when he cut past a pair of Canadian backs before striking a low drive that forced Lars Hirschfeld to palm wide.
The sequence set off a 10-minute spell Canada wouldn't recover from.
In the 28th minute, Blackburn collected a switch before taking a touch into Canada's area and attempting a chip that just missed the upper corner.
The superior start paid off for Panama just before the 40-minute mark when Blackburn sent the Rommel Ferandez into pandemonium after rising to meet a corner and nodding his header off the back post and in.
"We were second best to everything," Hart said. "We were second best to close the ball down. We were second best in the tackle. We didn't keep possession well. And they scored the goal and put us under pressure."
After watching De Rosario hobble off, Will Johnson, who was suspended due to yellow card accumulation, was a big miss in Canada's midfield, which struggled to prevent penetration into Panama's four attackers.
Despite a few faint attempts from Canada to push forward coming out of the break, Panama found its footing just before the hour mark when in the 57th minute Quintero skinned David Edgar on the left side before sliding a short cross to Blas Perez, who doubled Panama's advantage.
Looking to change Canada's lazy opening, Hart dropped Canada into a more comfortable 4-5-1 after beginning the game in a more risky 4-4-2. The change did little provide a lift to Canada's offence, which only created two chances after the break.
In the 77th minute, de Jong hit a restart from distance that sailed hopelessly over the home side's goal -- the perfect summation on a night where Canada put in its worst effort since qualifying began last year.
Julian de Guzman had a chance to cut Panama's lead in half in the 86th minute but failed to get all of a half-volley that Jaime Penedo held.
Canada now sits even with Honduras on seven points after the Central Americans topped Cuba on Tuesday night. Panama now leads CONCACAF's Group C on nine points, with Cuba on none.
"We have to do it," said Hart, when asked if Canada is capable of getting a point in Honduras. "We have the Cuba game (October 12) we've got to take care of first and then we have to go to Honduras and try and get a result."
Red Panama kits and horns began filling the Estadio Rommel Fernandez a full two hours before either team took the pitch Tuesday night.
As if the chain-linked fence around the pitch wasn't enough to hold back any of the 32,000 supporters that might have invaded the ground, two dozen Panamanian police dogs were scattered across a blue and white track amid a reported 700 officers, who were scattered throughout the seats.
It was an environment unique to Central America, one that made the 17,500 more reserved fans that showed up to BMO Field last Friday look and sound like a faint whimper.
It's what playing in CONCACAF is all about -- and what teams like the U.S., Mexico and Canada face when they travel to some of the most hostile environments in the world.
Whether it's the deafening horns or the bass drum band stationed in the stands on the halfway line in the country's national stadium, it's nearly impossible to hear the person sitting next to you.
It all added up to a hair-raising 90-minutes here Tuesday night -- as well as a small amount of ear damage.