Panama tops El Salvador on Arroyo goal, earns Gold Cup spot

Abdiel Arroyo (#22) scored the lone goal in Panama's win over El Salvador in the Copa Centroamericana on January 20, 2017, in Panama City, Panama. (Photo: Imagenes en Costa Rica)

PANAMA CITY, Panama – Abdiel Arroyo struck for a late goal as Panama (2W-1D-1L, 7 points) moved into second place in the 2017 Copa Centroamericana and clinched a spot in this year's CONCACAF Gold Cup with a 1-0 win over 10-man El Salvador (1-1-2, 4) on Friday night at the Estadio Rommel Fernandez.

The result -- which guaranteed the Panamanians a top-four finish and also assured Costa Rica (1-3-0, 6) a Gold Cup berth -- sets up an exciting last day of play on Sunday, with table-topping Honduras (3-1-0, 10) needing only a draw against last-place Belize to clinch its fourth Copa crown.

Panama can lift the trophy via a tiebreaker, but first Honduras has to lose and then the host Canaleros will need to defeat Costa Rica.

Belize must beat the Hondurans -- and hope that the encounter between El Salvador (1-1-2, 4) and Nicaragua (1-1-2, 4) doesn’t end in a draw -- in order to maintain a chance of meeting Haiti in a two-legged qualifying playoff.

Nicaragua can book a Gold Cup ticket with a draw against the Salvadorans, who will then finish in fifth place regardless of the Belize-Honduras result, setting up a winner-take-all series with Haiti.

El Salvador’s window of opportunity to defeat the Panamanians closed considerably in the 28th minute, when Richard Menjivar was dismissed for a second yellow card.  The midfielder was the third Salvadoran to be ejected in four Copa games.

It took Panama time to capitalize on its man advantage, but it finally did so in the 82nd minute.  After being allowed to work the ball from the right to left wing, Eric Davis delivered a cross that sailed over numerous heads before bouncing for Arroyo, who chested the ball down and slammed it past goalkeeper Benji Villalobos with his right foot from seven-yards out.

Slightly more than a minute later, El Salvador almost caught the Panamanians napping, but Darwin Ceren’s effort ricocheted off the right post.

The Panamanians rebounded from a 1-0 loss to Honduras in their previous outing and is now unbeaten in 17 of its last 18 Copa games, while El Salvador’s last five losses in the competition dating back to 2013 have been decided by one goal.

What’s next?                                                                                                                                                                            Both sides will play their last 2017 Copa matches on Sunday, with Panama taking on two-time defending champion Costa Rica and El Salvador squaring off against Nicaragua.