Honduras tops Panama, qualifies for CONCACAF Gold Cup

Honduras (pictured) celebrates after defeating Panama in a Copa Centroamericana match and qualifying for the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup on January 17, 2017, in Panama City, Panama. (Photo: Imagenes en Costa Rica)

PANAMA CITY, Panama -- Eddie Hernandez converted a penalty kick and Honduras (3W-0D-0L, 9 points) clinched a berth in the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup with a 1-0 win over host Panama (1-1-1, 4) in a spirited Copa Centroamericana encounter Tuesday night at the Estadio Rommel Fernandez. 

Honduras, which won its first three matches in the competition for the fourth time, remains atop the six-team table with nine points.  The Panamanians had their tournament-record unbeaten streak snapped at 16 games and sit in fourth place – trailing third-place El Salvador on goal difference --with four points from three matches.

The scoreless stalemate was broken in the 36th minute, when Hernandez rolled a penalty kick into the left side of the net as Panama goalkeeper Jose Calderon dived the other way.  Referee Jair Marrufo had pointed to the spot after ruling that defender Luis Ovalle pulled Hernandez down inside the box.

Hernandez’s second goal of the tournament came just five minutes after teammate Marcelo Canales put a blistering free kick from 30 yards just over the crossbar.

Panama pushed hard for an equalizer, but was unable to break down a Catracho defense that has now conceded one or fewer goals in 21 of its last 22 Copa Centroamericana matches.

Tony Taylor had a quality chance to level for the Canaleros in the 54th minute, beating an offside trap and cutting inside the box, before his low shot from 12-yards out was stopped by goalkeeper Donis Escober.

Moments later, Panamanian midfielder Armando Cooper sent a dangerous ball across the face of the goal, but Marcelo Pereira slid to clear at the edge of the six-yard box.

Panama’s best chance came in the final minute of regulation.  Arabe Unido star Edgar Yoel Barcenas chipped an effort that forced Escobar into a leaping save.

Honduras is a three-time champion of the tournament, last winning in 2011.  Panama, which has lifted the trophy once (2009), lost previously against Costa Rica, 3-0, on January 23, 2009.

 What’s next?

Both sides return to action on Friday as Honduras faces Costa Rica (1-2-0, 5) and Panama squares off against El Salvador (1-1-1, 4).