PANAMA CITY, Panama - A thrilling group stage is over and done at the CONCACAF Under-17 Championship in Panama, and the knockout action gets underway on Saturday with two key clashes that will determine the region's first two tickets to the 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates.
One of the first to look for its ticket to the world stage will be host Panama, which takes on Trinidad & Tobago in Saturday's nightcap at Estadio Agustin "Muquita" Sanchez in La Chorrera, where the Canaleros won a hotly contested Group A.
The host had a bit more trouble than hoped navigating the group stage, as Jorge Dely Valdes' charges had to come up with a tense victory over a surprise Barbados side that fell just short of advancing to the quarters. A standout performance from forward Ervin Zorilla, though, led the Red Tide to the 2-0 win over the Caribbean side in the final group match, and put Panama through.
Panama's slight struggles were due also to a strong group performance from Jamaica, whose pair of draws led to a second round date with Canada, the leader of Group B, in a match that will kick off action on Saturday at 5 PM local time.
"The staff and the players have done everything they can to prepare for tomorrow and we are simply asking the team to focus on putting in a good performance," said Canada head coach, Sean Fleming. "Credit has to go the boys for how they have performed so far in Panama in some difficult conditions and we know we will have to be at our best to beat Jamaica tomorrow."
The Canadians looked excellent in group action, overcoming Trinidad on the opening day, before playing Costa Rica to a 1-1 tie. They will, however, be without Marco Dominguez-Ramirez against Jamaica, after the standout midfielder accumulated two yellow cards in group play.
The other side of the draw produced clearer group winners, as both defending tournament champion United States and defending World Cup champion Mexico managed two wins from two outings in Group C and Group D, respectively.
Mexico racked up an impressive seven goals for and just one against, while motoring to wins over Honduras and Cuba. The Catrachos also advanced to the quarterfinal stage by virtue of their 4-1 triumph over the Caribbean side, behind a brace from central playmaker Devron Garcia.
Honduras will face the U.S. on Sunday, after a strong defensive showing led the Americans through to the quarters. Led by goalkeeper Jeff Caldwell, the U.S. was the only team not to give up a goal in the group stage.
Guatemala seized the final spot in the quarterfinals with a win over Haiti, on the strength of two goals from Christopher Ortiz. The Chapines will be in search of their first-ever under-17 World Cup appearance, when they meet Mexico in Sunday's late game, which will round out the region's field for the 2013 World Cup.