Panama’s Luis Zuñiga (red) tries to tackle Ivan Sunjic of Croatia during their FIFA U-17 World Cup match at Fujairah Stadium on October 21, 2013, in Fujairah, United Arab Emirates. (Photo: FIFA via Getty Images)
FUJAIRAH, UAE – A first-half goal by Ante Roguljic proved to be the difference as Croatia defeated Panama, 1-0, in the 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup on Monday at Fujairah Stadium.
Despite the loss, Panama (0-0-2, 0 points) -- which fell to Uzbekistan, 2-0, in its Group C opener -- still has a slim hope of advancing to the knockout stage.
Croatia (1-0-1, 3 points) dropped a 3-1 decision in its first tournament outing to Morocco, but it bounced back with a solid performance against the Canaleros.
The European side jumped in front in the 26th minute. Roguljic received a pass from Elvir Maloku, dribbled into the area, cut outside of a defender and put a low shot from the edge of the six-yard box inside the far post.
Nine minutes later, Maloku nearly added a second. His close-range effort, following a splendid dribbling display in the box, was saved by goalkeeper Jaime De Gracia.
Shortly afterwards, Panama nearly leveled. Luis Zuñiga latched onto a Luis Canate corner, only to see his header from just outside the six-yard box sail over the crossbar.
The Panamanians had one final chance before halftime, but Milciades Molina’s free kick from 23-yards out landed on the top netting.
After the break, the CONCACAF runner-up attacked with numbers in a bid to find the elusive equalizer.
In the 75th minute, Ervin Zorrilla was played in behind the defense. Croatia goalkeeper Marko Maric, though, did well to come off his line and corral the ball.
Late in the encounter, Vidal Gonzalez started to make his imprint, creating three opportunities. During a 13-minute stretch, he struck the crossbar, rolled an attempt into Maric and fired high from the top of the 18-yard box.
Panama, making its second straight appearance in the competition, closes out the group stage with a match against Morocco at Sharjah Stadium on Thursday.