Panama in, Mexico out: Canaleros move into Gold Cup final

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For a moment in the first half, right after Panama made it clear a second Gold Cup win over Mexico was as much a probability as a possibility, El Tri seemed to wake up. They played with some of the skill and passion many expected a team with of their quality to carry throughout the tournament, even if most of their Gold Cup has been as meek as their World Cup Qualifying campaign. Yet by the time halftime rolled around, Panama again looked more likely to join the United States in Sunday’s final, an appearance the bore out over the match’s final 45 minutes.

With goals from Blas Pérez and Roman Torres on each side of half time, Panama secured their second ever competitive win over Mexico, replicating their group stage triumph to clinch a place in Sunday’s Gold Cup final. The Canaleros‘ second finals appearance comes eight years after their first, with the team set to meet a United States side that defeated them on penalty kicks eight years ago.

Pérez opened the scoring early. Teammate Alberto Quintero took the ball from Mexico midfielder Alejandro Castro at the edge of El Tri’s defensive third, exchanged passes with Pérez, then played the FC Dallas striker in to the right of goal. Pérez’s high, near post finish past Jonathan Orozco gave the Panamanians a 13th minute lead.

The advantage proved short-lived, as Mexico took the possession advantage they’d held through the opening whistle and started converting it into pressure. Eventually Marco Fabián, one of El Tri’s few bright spots this tournament, created a change for Luis Montes, chippping from the left of the area to set up Montes’s equalizing header in the 26th minute.

That score held for the next 35 minutes until Panama won a corner along their left just past hour mark. Restarting play, Gabriel Torres swung a ball in to the edge of the six-yard box, in the middle of goal, where Roman Torres had beat Joel Huiqui. Running onto an easy finish, the Panamanian defender put his team into their second Gold Cup final.

As with every Mexico disappointment, the loss is sure to increase pressure on head coach Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre, even though Mexico brought a diminished squad into the tournament. El Tri’s first two losses to Panama are unlikely to be taken in stride, though. At a minimum, the heat gets turned up yet another notch on the embattled coach.

As for Panama, Julio Dely Valdés’s team has a chance to make history. Only Mexico, the U.S. and Canada have ever claimed a Gold Cup, and while they’re sure to be seen as underdogs ahead of Sunday’s game in Chicago, Panama’s undefeated in the competition, scoring 11 times while conceding only three goals.

If they beat the U.S. it will be an upset, but from a team whose play transcends their renown, a victory for Panama would hardly be a shock.

VIDEO: Tunisia equalizes on controversial penalty kick

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England centerback Kyle Walker put his arm up to halt the forward progress of Fakhreddine Ben Youssef. Unfortunately for Walker, Ben Youssef was in the box and Walker’s elbow caught Ben Youssef’s face.

Referee Wilmar Roldan quickly whistled for a penalty kick and despite the protests from a half-dozen of England players and a check from the VAR, the called stood. Ferjani Sassi’stepped up to the spot and found the lower-left corner, just barely beating Jordan Pickford to tie the game in the 35th minute.

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How will England respond?

VIDEO: Captain Kane puts England on the board early

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It may be the easiest goal-scoring opportunity Harry Kane‘s ever had in an international competition, and he finished it as easy as you’d like.

Kane side-footed home after Tunisia goalkeeper Mouez Hassen made a terrific save on John Stone’s header off a corner, but the save was directed right into a wide-open Kane who was standing ready inside the six yard box. The 11th minute goal will surely settle some of the Three Lions’ nerves as they open their World Cup bid in Russia.

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After slow start, Belgium takes care of business against feisty Panama

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All it took was one goal to bring Belgium to life.

Following a frustrating first 45 minutes, in which Belgium put a pair of shots into the side netting and forced saves from Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, Dries Mertens 47th minute goal opened the floodgates, as Belgium went on to defeat Panama, 3-0, Monday afternoon in Sochi.

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But Panama never made it easy for the Belgians. From the opening whistle the CONCACAF nation showed its incredible spirit, chasing down Belgium all across the field and making life incredibly difficult for Belgium attackers Romelu Lukaku, Mertens and Eden Hazard. Hazard was hacked down all over the field, and while he did earn fouls and a few yellow cards were issued to Panamanian players, it was enough to get in Hazard’s head.

Two minutes into the second half, everything changed. A wonderstrike from Mertens opened the game, and forced Panama to attack and try and tie the match, which gave Hazard, de Bruyne and Lukaku more space to operate.

In the heat and humidity of the Sochi summer, Panama’s veteran defense began to tire, allowing de Bruyne the space to deliver a terrific assist to Lukaku in the box, putting Belgium up 2-0 in the 69th minute.

 

Six minutes later, Lukaku was put through on the break, chipping over Penedo to confirm the victory.

With the win, Belgium moves to the top of Group G. Up next for Belgium is Tunisia on Saturday, while Panama takes on England on Sunday.

VIDEO: de Bruyne delivers gorgeous assist on Lukaku goal

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It took a little bit of patience, but Romelu Lukaku finally got on the scoresheet at the 2018 World Cup, thanks to a delicious assist from crosstown club rival Kevin De Bruyne.

The Manchester City playmaker delivered a spectacular outside-of-the-boot cross into the box, where Lukaku’s head met it and guided it towards the far post for Belgium’s second goal of the day.

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