Costa Rica rallies for tie, qualifies for Gold Cup

Costa Rica's Celso Borges (#5) celebrates after scoring the equalizer in a 2-2 Central American draw against Panama in a Central American Cup game against Panama on September 9, 2014, at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas. (Photo: Mexsport)

DALLAS -- Costa Rica rallied from a two-goal deficit to record a 2-2 Group B draw with Panama in the Central American Cup and book a berth in its seventh straight CONCACAF Gold Cup at the Cotton Bowl on Sunday.

Johan Venegas halved the lead in the 81st minute and Celso Borges converted a penalty kick five minutes later.  The Ticos (1-1-0 4 points) needed heroics by goalkeeper Patrick Pemberton in stoppage time as the Alajuelense star denied Gabriel Gomez the game-winner with a spectacular penalty-kick save.

The Canaleros (0-1-0, 1 point) meet Nicaragua (0-0-1, 0 points) in Houston on Wednesday night.  Though Costa Rica has completed group play, it must wait to see if it will play in next Saturday’s final or match for third place.  The top two teams in each group automatically qualify for the Gold Cup.

After an ordinary first half that yielded no goals, the match burst to life after the break in one of the most dramatic finishes in the tournament’s history.

Panama, which had beaten its rival just once in 10 previous CCA matches, appeared to be headed for a rare win over the Ticos.

Blas Perez lifted the Panamanians into 1-0 lead, beating Pemberton from six yards off a corner kick in the 51st minute.  It was Perez's third career CCA goal and the third consecutive competition in which he has scored.

Roberto Nurse doubled the advantage in the 70th minute as he connected off a close-range volley for his first CCA goal.

The defending champion got back into the game courtesy of Venegas.  The 25-year-old found some room at the top right of the box and sent a low shot into the far corner past goalkeeper Jaime Penedo for his second goal of the tournament.

After Gomez was called for a foul in the area, the Ticos were awarded a penalty kick by referee Joel Aguilar.  Borges, who converted a penalty in the 3-0 win over Nicaragua Wednesday, did so again.  With Penedo diving to his left, the Costa Rican captain powered his shot into the middle of the goal for a 2-2 deadlock in the 86th minute.

Despite the dramatic turn of events, Panama still had a chance to win, when it was given a penalty due to an Oscar Duarte foul in the box.  Gomez tried to make amends for his earlier miscue, but Pemberton blocked the attempt with his left hand seconds into added time.

To view the Highlights of this game, click here.