PUEBLA, Mexico - Last July, El Salvador and Panama met in Central American qualifying for the 2013 CONCACAF Under-20 Championship. Abdiel Arroyo gave the Panamanians an early 1-0 lead, but the Salvadorans stormed back to triumph, 4-3. Jairo Henriquez scored two goals and Jose Pena added one in a winning effort.
Fast forward to Wednesday, as El Salvador and Panama faced off at the Estadio Cuauhtemoc, this time in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF tournament, with a place at 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup at stake.
Eerily similar to the initial encounter, Panama took a 1-0 lead in the 32nd minute, only to see El Salvador rally for a 3-1 win and qualify for the U-20 World Cup. To make matters even more coincidental, Henriquez tallied twice and Pena once.
Football is proven again to be a wonderfully unique sport, as the victory marked the first time that the Cuscatlecos have qualified for the FIFA competition.
The loss, though, was a blow to the Panamanians, who cruised through the group phase, as well as the first half.
The Canaleros had a chance to go ahead in the third minute, but Amet Ramirez - the tournament's top scorer with four goals - smashed a penalty kick off the left post after a handball infraction in the Salvadoran box.
Despite that brief moment of disappointment, Panama stayed on the front foot, attacking from all angles.
In the 21st minute, Jairo Jimenez burst into the right side of the penalty area and sent a pass to the far post for Arroyo, who knocked it over the crossbar with the goal at his mercy.
Ten minutes later, Arroyo rumbled into the box only to be upended by Olivier Ayala. Referee Edvin Jurisevic had no choice but to point to the penalty spot.
Jimenez stepped up to take the kick and sent goalkeeper Rolando Morales the wrong way to give the Panamanians a 1-0 lead.
For as dominant as Panama was in the first half, El Salvador was even more so in the second stanza.
Pena and substitute Diego Galdamez both had opportunities within seconds of each other shortly after the interval.
From there, the floodgates opened even more widely and the Salvadorans rode the ensuing wave unreservedly.
Henriquez leveled the score at 1-1 in the 55th, striking from eight yards after Roberto Gonzalez headed a ball backwards into his path.
With 11 minutes left on the clock, Gonzalez tapped away a ball in the Panamanian half of the field that found its way to Pena. The 18-year-old gained possession and then crushed a shot from nearly 30 yards that gave El Salvador a 2-1 advantage.
Henriquez completed the score line three minutes into stoppage time, putting in a rebound of his own shot after stealing the ball in the Panamanian box.
El Salvador will have precious little time to celebrate its historic accomplishment, before meeting the winner of Mexico-Jamaica in the semifinals on Friday.