Panama seized control in Group A of the CONCACAF Gold Cup with a 1-0 win Thursday against tiny Martinique at CenturyLink Field.
Forward Gabriel Torres converted a penalty kick in the 85th minute, his third goal of the tournament, as Panama (2-0) clinched a berth in the quarterfinals. But coach Julio Dely Valdes doesn’t want to stop there, setting a target of finishing first in the group — one that also contains Mexico and Canada — en route to the knockout stages.
“It was good, that was the result that we wanted … and hopefully we’ll be able to get another win,” Dely Valdes said through an interpreter.
Martinique, which played the final 17 minutes with 10 men, fell to 1-1-0.
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The game was shaping up to be Panama’s second disappointing result here in 30 days, following a June 11 loss to the U.S. men’s national team in World Cup qualifying. Fortunes changed in the 73rd minute, however, when Martinique defender Jacky Berdix was given a red card following his second yellow-card tackle of the game.
Panama instantly went on the attack, nearly going ahead in the 74th minute on a looping shot by forward Blas Perez, who also stars for FC Dallas of MLS.
The crucial play came later when Martinique defender Sebastien Cretinoir clattered into Panama substitute Jairo Jimenez to set up the penalty kick, a chance that Torres converted just past the outstretched hand of goalkeeper Kevin Olimpa.
Undermanned Martinique never challenged for an equalizer in the closing minutes but still earned the respect of its opponent.
“We knew we were going to face a good team, good players — always fighting,” said Dely Valdes. “They wouldn’t give it away easy.”
The loss was particularly painful to Martinique, an overseas region of France with a population around 400,000. The federation, which is not recognized by FIFA, the governing body of world soccer, had two penalty-kick appeals waved off by referee Armando Castro of Honduras — one in each half.
“In the last two games, I’m counting five penalties that weren’t given, so that counts for a lot,” said coach Patrick Cavelan through an interpreter. “However I’m very proud of my team; we played very well.”
Torres was the most dangerous player on the field, coming off a two-goal performance in Sunday’s 2-1 win over favored Mexico. He boasted a great scoring chance in the 55th minute, but his breakaway was snuffed out by Olimpa, and also had a trio of dangerous attempts in the first half.
Dely Valdes, who played across Europe in the top leagues of France, Spain and Italy, said Torres “certainly has that possibility.”
Panama plays Canada in Sunday’s group-stage finales, while Martinique faces Mexico. In 10 previous Gold Cup appearances combined, Panama and Martinique had never played each other until Thursday.
• Panama defender Roberto Chen, a possible target of the Sounders in the summer transfer window, started his second straight game in the tournament. The 19-year-old nearly scored on a tight-angled header off a corner kick in the 63rd minute.
Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @joshuamayers.