If last Friday’s game was the biggest of many of the Canadian players’ careers, Tuesday’s game can only be a new high point (9 pm ET, Sportsnet One). At the end of the night, Canada can officially be through to the Hex — but only if they win and Cuba pull off an unlikely win over Honduras. What is more conceivable is that Canada can be in a position in which they would need only a win at home against Cuba next month to advance.
Standing in their way is a Panama team that’s out for revenge after last week's loss in Toronto and more than anything want to return to top spot in the group and virtually seal their passage to the final round.
Panamanian fans were out until the early hours of Tuesday morning blasting off fireworks that became amplified when the sound bounced off surrounding buildings. They also played music on massive speakers and slow-driving cars honked their horns as they rolled past. That shouldn’t affect the players, however, as many had earplugs and noise-cancelling headphones to deal with the additional distractions that come with competing in Central America.
Just a few short days ago, Dwayne De Rosario and Atiba Hutchinson combined on Canada’s winner, picking up a important 1-0 win at BMO Field. Canada’s finishing was once again suspect, but the two veterans capitalized when the Panamanians lost their focus on a free kick in the second half.
Heading into this game, Canada do have history on their side as they’ve never lost to their Panamanian opponents in friendlies, at the Gold Cup or in World Cup qualifying.
The newspapers in Panama have been plastered with pictures of the players and of coach Julio Dely Valdés. The headlines here read, “Win, win, oh just win” and “Turn the page.” Make no mistake: Panama will be out to attack Canada in a big way now that they’re playing in front of a packed house full of fellow Canaleros.
After Canada’s lone training session at the Estadio Rommel Fernández, Canadian head coach Stephen Hart said he expects Panama’s starting lineup to look more like what Valdés ran out in the last 30 minutes of Friday’s game. He’s anticipating Panama will push Canada early. The Panamanians said Canada were effective in clogging up the center of midfield on Friday, and they’re confident they know how to beat that tactic this time around.
Les Rouges will make do without midfielder Will Johnson, who returned to Real Salt Lake as a result of the yellow card that he picked up on Friday. As it was his second of this round, Johnson has to sit out the game.
Canada also lost Olivier Occean to an unspecified injury, and Hart said the team that takes the field will likely feature a much different lineup than on Friday. Normally, Canada plays with a 4-2-3-1 formation but, facing a tough decision as to whether they should play more defensively, Hart is likely to change that formation to fit a more conservative game plan.
Panama: Jaime Penedo
Despite the fact that Canada only beat Penedo once on Friday, the goalkeeper, who plays for Municipal in Guatemala, looked shaky at times. Penedo made some ill-advised punches on crosses he likely should have caught and was caught unaware just like the rest of the defense when Canada scored their goal. If Canada can find a way to get more shots on target and pressure him enough to cough up a rebound or make a poor decision in the box, they may be able to get a goal or two.
Canada: Kevin McKenna
McKenna was sensational in last week's game, as the captain hardly set a foot wrong on the backline. Though he’s not as quick as he once was, McKenna’s positioning and decision-making ability make him a key part of Canada’s defensive unit. As the Panamanians are expected to come right at Canada on Tuesday, McKenna’s experience in leading the line will likely be pushed to the limit.
GOALKEEPERS (2): Luis Mejía (Fénix/Uruguay), Jaime Penedo (Municipal/Guatemala)
DEFENDERS (7): Felipe Baloy (Santos Laguna/Mexico), Jean Carlos Cedeño (Alianza FC/Panama), Eduardo Dasent (Tauro/Panama), Luis Henríquez (Lech Poznan/Poland), Roderick Miller (San Francisco/Panama), Carlos Rodríguez (FC Dallas), Román Torres (Millonarios/Colombia)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Nelson Barahona (Atlético Huila/Colombia), Armando Cooper (Godoy Cruz/Argentina), Anibal Godoy (Chepo FC/Panama), Gabriel Gómez (Philadelphia Union), Amilcar Henríquez (Independiente Medellín/Colombia), Juan Pérez (Tauro/Panama), Alberto Quintero (Chorrillo/Panama), Marcos Sánchez (Tauro/Panama)
FORWARDS (5): Rolando Blackburn (Senica/Slovakia), Edwin Aguilar (Tauro/Panama), Blas Pérez (FC Dallas), Luis Tejada (Toluca/Mexico), Yairo Yau (Sydney FC/Australia)
GOALKEEPERS (3): Milan Borjan (Sivasspor/Turkey), Lars Hirschfeld (Vålerenga/Norway), Kenny Stamatopoulos (AIK/Sweden)
DEFENDERS (7): Kevin McKenna (FC Köln/Germany), Dejan Jakovic (D.C. United), André Hainault (Houston Dynamo), Marcel de Jong (FC Augsburg/Germany), Ante Jazic (Chivas USA), Ashtone Morgan (Toronto FC), David Edgar (Burnley FC/England)
MIDFIELDERS (6): Julian de Guzman (FC Dallas), Terry Dunfield (Toronto FC), Dwayne De Rosario (D.C. United), Pedro Pacheco (Santa Clara/Portugal), Patrice Bernier (Montreal Impact), Nik Ledgerwood (Hammarby IF/Sweden),
FORWARDS (2): Tosaint Ricketts (Vålerenga/Norway), Simeon Jackson (Norwich City FC/England).