CHICAGO – In its Copa America Centenario match on Friday night, Panama may have suffered a 5-0 setback, but it also lost two key figures during the course of the match.
In the 20th minute, midfielder Valentin Pimentel exited with what proved to be a hip injury and, 11 minutes later, Anibal Godoy was ejected.
Still, Nicolas Otamendi’s seventh-minute strike was the lone goal until the 68th minute, when substitute Lionel Messi scored the first of his three goals, before Sergio Aguero notched the fifth.
“It was a match where we started off behind due out errors in our own defensive half,” said Panama head Hernan Dario Gomez. “Nevertheless, Panama regrouped, recovered more of the ball, did not let Argentina get out and we had moments of ball possession.”
The Panamanians were creating chances and had a great opportunity to level, but -- on the same play in which Pimentel went down -- Roderick Miller’s close-range header missed wide of the right post.
“It appeared to me that Panama was doing big things in the match,” Gomez continued. “I did not see a clear Argentine advantage. We were better and then came Anibal’s sending off, but the first half ended where I did not see much of a difference, despite Argentina’s great capacity. I think that Panama was making space and neutralizing well.”
Lionel Messi’s 61st minute introduction, though, proved to be the difference. It was a perfect storm – Panama was tiring and the five-time World Player of the Year was just getting started.
“In the second half, Panama continued as normal…Argentina with the ball, us with 10 men,” finished Gomez. “There was a change and Messi comes on just as our fatigue sets in. The second goal is a massive error from our team, Messi scores and it’s even tougher for us.
“The tiredness sets in and the third goal is another big error of ours and in that moment the team fell apart. But I think that Panama did important things from my perspective as a coach.”
Panama (1W-0D-1L, 3 points, GD-4) can still advance to quarterfinals with a victory in its final group-stage match against defending champion Chile (1-0-1, 3, GD0) on Tuesday in Philadelphia.