Action from Copa Centroamericana match between El Salvador and Nicaragua (white jersey) on January 22, 2017, in Panama City, Panama. (Photo: Imagenes en Costa Rica)
PANAMA CITY, Panama -- El Salvador (2W-1D-7L, 7 points) secured a spot in a sixth straight CONCACAF Gold Cup by recording a 1-0 victory over Nicaragua (1-1-3, 4) in the final game for both sides in the Copa Centroamericana at the Estadio Rommel Fernandez on Sunday.
Irvin Herrera scored the lone goal of the tightly contested match, converting a left-wing feed in the 54th minute.
The Salvadorans needed to win in order to be guaranteed a top-four place in the six-team table and earn a direct Gold Cup berth. Had the teams played to a draw, Nicaragua would have qualified on the basis of the “more goals scored” tiebreaker.
Now, the Nicaraguans will meet Haiti -- which finished fifth in the 2016/17 Scotiabank CFU Men’s Caribbean Cup – in a two-legged playoff for the 12th and final place in the Gold Cup. The dates for the encounters are expected to be announced in the near future.
El Salvador’s goal came in the 54th minute, when Andres Flores sent a feed from the left wing into the left side of the box on a give-and-go with a sprinting Herrera. Without hesitation, the 25-year-old Saint Louis FC forward slotted past charging goalkeeper Diedrich Tellez with his left foot from eight-yards out.
Herrera celebrated his first-ever Copa goal with two backflips. He also netted once during the Salvadorans’ qualifying campaign for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Nicaragua’s Daniel Cadena twice came close to equalizing.
He found himself unmarked at the far left post on a corner kick, but was a step away from the ball in the 58th minute. Five minutes later, the 29-year-old attempted a spectacular bicycle kick from point-blank range in the box that went wide right.
The Nicaraguans pushed for the tying goal in the waning minutes as two last-ditch shots sailed over the crossbar.
El Salvador started the competition with a scoreless draw with Costa Rica, followed a 2-1 loss to eventual Copa champion Honduras, a 3-1 win over Belize and 1-0 setback to Panama.
Nicaragua kicked off with 2-1 defeats to Honduras and Panama, respectively, before playing the Costa Ricans to a scoreless draw and beating Belize, 3-1.