Panama seals Copa America Centenario spot

Panama players (pictured) celebrate and acknowledge their fans after defeating visiting Cuba for a place in the Copa America Centenario on January 8, 2016, at the Estadio Rommel Fernandez in Panama City. (Photo: Mexsport)

PANAMA CITY, Panama – Panama clinched CONCACAF’s sixth and last spot in the 2016 Copa America Centenario with a 4-0 win over visiting Cuba on Friday at the Estadio Rommel Fernandez. 

Thanks to the victory, the Panamanians join the host United States, Mexico, Costa Rica, Jamaica and Haiti – a 1-0 winner over Trinidad & Tobago in the evening -- in the 16-team tournament that includes all 10 members of CONMEBOL and will be played June 3-26, 2016. 

Gabriel Gomez and Luis Tejada netted before 20 minutes had passed, while Armando Cooper and Blas Perez added second half strikes. 

Despite a warm and humid evening, the host came out firing on all cylinders. It went ahead in just the fourth minute, when Gomez headed home from three-yards out at the left post off a beautifully lofted pass from Valentin Pimentel. 

The Canaleros’ lead was doubled in the 18th minute, when Tejada converted from the penalty spot after Perez was taken down in the box by Yosel Piedra. 

Pimentel nearly got his name on the scoresheet in the 34th minute, but his glancing hit the woodwork and bounced in front of the line. 

After the break, Panama stayed on the front foot, refusing to let a young Cuban side climb back into the match. 

Tejada turned provider in the 52nd minute, rolling a pass from the middle to Cooper on the right. The 28-year-old midfielder took a touch in the box and fired a right-footed shot past goalkeeper Sandy Sanchez from 12-yards out to make it 3-0. 

With a minute remaining in normal time, Perez punctuated the scoreline. The veteran forward outjumped Sanchez to Cooper’s cross from the right to head in from two-yards out. 

The Copa America Centenario draw will be held in February with details on procedures expected to be announced in the coming days.