Daniel Cadena (white jersey) scored in Nicaragua's win over Belize in the Copa Centroamericana on January 20, 2017, in Panama City, Panama. (Photo: Imagenes en Costa Rica)
PANAMA CITY, Panama -- Daniel Cadena and Bryan Garcia scored goals in the final seven minutes to power Nicaragua to a dramatic 3-1 victory over Belize in the first game of a Copa Centroamericana tripleheader at Estadio Rommel Fernández on Friday.
The win kept Nicaragua's (1-1-2, 4 points) hopes alive of finishing among the top four teams and securing a berth in the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup, while the Belizeans (0-1-3, 1) suffered a third straight loss.
It was the first time the Nicaraguans scored three goals in a Copa match since they registered a 4-2 triumph over Belize in 2007.
Cadena snapped a 1-1 tie after goalkeeper Shane Orio saved a shot from the middle of the box in the 83rd minute. He scrambled to gain possession at a difficult angle at the right post, lofting the ball toward the far post. Orio came down with it on the goal line, but game officials ruled the ball had crossed the plane of the goal while in the air.
Garcia, who replaced Elvis Figueora in the 59th minute, gave Nicaragua much-needed breathing room in the 90th minute, slamming home a rebound of a Jaime Moreno shot from the left side.
Despite enjoying the better of play in the first half, the Nicaraguans had only one goal to show for their efforts. That occurred in the 23rd minute, when captain Juan Barrera headed home Marlon Lopez's left-wing cross just from the edge of the six-yard box. It was Barrera's second career Copa goal and his first against Belize in 2009.
Nicaragua was haunted by its inability to score additional goals as Belize equalized in the 54th minute. Defender Luis Fernando Copete was called for a hand ball high in the penalty area as the Belizeans were awarded a penalty kick. Captain Elroy Smith converted his try past goalkeeper Diedrich Tellez for a 1-1 deadlock.
On Sunday’s final day, Belize meets first-place Honduras and Nicaragua will take on El Salvador.