Panama edges Nicaragua in Copa Centroamericana test
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Action from the Copa Centroamericana match between host Panama (white jersey) and Nicaragua on January 15, 2017, in Panama City, Panama. (Photo: Imagenes en Costa Rica)

PANAMA CITY, Panama – Panama (1W-1D-0L, 4 points) scored two early goals and held on to earn a 2-1 win over Nicaragua (0-0-2, 0) in the last game of a 2017 Copa Centroamericana tripleheader on Sunday at the Estadio Rommel Fernandez.

The victory left the tournament host behind second-place Costa Rica (1-1-0, 4) – a 3-0 winner over Belize (0-1-1, 1) – on goal difference (+3 to +1). Honduras (2-0-0, 6) finished the second matchday in first place on the strength of a 2-1 win against El Salvador (0-1-1, 1).

Roderick Miller gave Panama a 1-0 lead in the eighth minute. An in-swinging free kick from the right wing by Oscar Villareal cruised over players from both sides, before Abdiel Arroyo dipped his head to make a connection. It didn’t appear that Arroyo got a touch and the ball may have taken a slight deflection off Nicaragua defender Jason Casco, before Miller lunged at the door step to net with his left shin.

Four minutes later, Josiel Nuñez made it 2-0. Arroyo gained control of the ball near the midfield line and charged up the field. As three defenders converged on him, Arroyo slipped a pass to the left for Nuñez, who initially got it caught underneath his feet. Without panicking, the 23-year-old turned to maintain possession and then curled a right-footed shot into the right side of the net from 20-yards out.

Nicaragua finally settled down to play some cohesive football, halving the deficit in the 30th minute. A brilliant left-footed pass by Daniel Cadena, 35 yards from goal, found Bryan Garcia streaking into the left side of the box. While in stride, the 21-year-old midfielder chested the ball down, let it bounce and then pounded a right-footed shot off the hands of goalkeeper Jose Calderon into the back of the net.

An entertaining second half produced two solid scoring opportunities – one for each team.

Villarreal struck the left post in the 52nd minute for Panama, while Calderon saved a venomous attempt off the right foot of Jaime Moreno and then watched as Elvis Figueroa’s follow-up sailed high.

Panama extended its Copa record unbeaten streak to 16 games (9-7-0), while Nicaragua is winless in 12 straight (0-2-10).

What’s next?
Both sides return to action on January 17…Panama faces Honduras and Nicaragua will take on two-time defending champion Costa Rica.