July 24, 2005

U.S. sneak past Panama in Gold Cup final

By Steve James

EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey (Reuters) - The United States
beat underdogs Panama 3-1 in a penalty shootout to win the
CONCACAF Gold Cup final Sunday after what the U.S. coach
described as a "sloppy" performance.

Panama dominated the second half of normal time but the
match ended scoreless after an extra 30 minutes as the sides
battled for supremacy in the biennial competition for North and
Central America and the Caribbean countries.

U.S. goalkeeper and captain Kasey Keller saved the first
Panama penalty from Luis Tejada and the Central American team's
second attempt from Jorge Luis Dely Valdes hit the bar.

Although Panama's Felipe Baloy managed to score and
goalkeeper Jaime Penedo saved a weak effort by Chris Armas, the
match was decided when Alberto Blanco blazed over the bar and
Brad Davis beat Penedo in the fourth round of penalties.

Santino Quaranta and Landon Donovan also scored for the
Americans in front of a crowd of 31,000 at Giants Stadium.

"The game was very sloppy," said U.S. assistant coach Glenn
Myernick, standing in for head coach Bruce Arena who was
suspended for swearing at officials during Thursday's
semi-final against Honduras.

"We had a number of guys with poor games today."

Panama, who had beaten South Africa on penalties in the
quarter-finals, were disappointed after being edged out in the


"Yes, we practice them (penalties), but we didn't want it
to come to that today because we knew the quality of the
goalkeeper we would face," said Panama coach Jose Hernandez.

He added that Panama's advance to the final had given his
squad invaluable experience in preparation for the final round
of World Cup qualifying.

Mexico and the U.S. are virtually certain to qualify for
Germany 2006 while Panama, Trinidad and Tobago, Guatemala and
Costa Rica are competing for the final place in the CONCACAF

Whoever finishes fourth, will go into a playoff to win a
place at the World Cup finals.

However, surprise finalists Panama, who upset Colombia 3-2
in the last four, came close to humbling their hosts who have
just climbed to a highest-ever sixth position in the official
FIFA world rankings.

In extra time, the Panamanians nearly sealed victory when
Dely Valdes forced Keller into a full-length save with a strike
from 10 meters and Blanco shot narrowly wide with goal open.

In the second half of regulation time, Panama were also
superior. In the 51st minute, Tejada almost scored a
sensational goal with an overhead kick from the edge of the
area that Keller tipped around the post.


Twenty-four minutes later, Dely Valdes chested down a cross
and beat Keller with a lunging volley at the far post but the
ball then bounced back off the post.

U.S. coach Bruce Arena missed the game as a result of a
match suspension after being ejected in Thursday's semi-final
victory over Honduras for swearing at an official. The
Americans were coached by his assistant Glenn Myernick Sunday.

In the first half, the Panamanians twice came close to
scoring in the first 20 minutes.

Julio Medina beat the offside trap in the seventh minute
and rounded the onrushing Keller on the edge of the box. He
passed inside to Tejada whose lofted shot curled just wide.

Felipe Baloy then had the ball in the net for the visitors,
but was ruled marginally offside.

After a slow start, the Americans pushed forward and should
have scored in the 24th minute when a low shot by John O'Brien
eluded goalkeeper Penedo.

However, Jimmy Conrad, arriving at the far post, put the
ball over the bar from just one yard out with the goal at his

After Keller saved a powerful shot by Blanco and a Gabriel
Gomez free-kick, Clint Dempsey's strong header was tipped over
by Penedo in the 38th minute.