By Samindra Kunti in New Jersey
June 30 – On six points, Panama took a big step closer to qualifing for the last eight of the Gold Cup with a simple 2-1 victory against Martinique.
But Los Canaleros could miss key defender Michael Murillo for the rest of the tournament after he limped off with an injury in the second half.
Panama flew out of the blocks channelling all of the danger on their right channel with Murillo’s run in behind the Martinique defence leading to a narrowly missed opportunity and José Fajardo, an industrious goal scorer against Costa Rica, forcing a fine save from goalkeeper Théo De Percin, who replaced Yannis Clementia, the man of the match against El Salvador, as Marc Callot rang no less than eight changes from the opening game.
Midway through the first half, Callot passed a note to his players readjusting his side, with winger Andy Marny dropping deeper to form a 4-5-1 formation and almost mirror Panama’s tactical line-up.
The new plan worked: Panama retained possession, but their attacks were no longer stinging until Eric Davies’s header at the far post was denied by De Percin. On the bench, Clementia, who plays his club football in Ligue 2 as well, roared his number one on. Fajardo then directed a free header wide.
Panama had squandered four good opportunities through a combination of attacking inaccuracy and De Percin’s good goalkeeping, but could Martinique resist the pressure for 90 minutes?
No, in the 57th minute, Fajardo got one chance too many to steer a powerful header from close range past De Percin. Perhaps, Collat and his team had been deceived by Panama’s slower start to the second half.
The 73-year-old manager responded with the introduction of both Patrick Burner and Ronny Labonne but to little avail, as Panama burst forward once more to strike a second time through Murillo in the 68th minute and wrap up the match, 2-0. But Panama’s Danish coach Thomas Christiansen could not be entirely satisfied at the full-time whistle.
Murillo limped off injured after appearing to pull a hamstring. In injury time, his side, for the second consecutive time, conceded, this time following a goalmouth scramble with substitute Karl Fabien slotting the ball into the net.
Panama now look nailed on for the quarter-finals, with two wins from two, and will seek to maintain their perfect record against El Salvador to conclude the group stages. For Martinique, nothing is lost yet. A victory against Costa Rica could see the island nation through to the last eight, a feat they have achieved only once.
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