Panama crashes Mexico's party, starts its own with victory in Gold Cup semifinals

Posted Thursday, Jul. 25, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Cowboys Stadium was filled 81,410 strong Wednesday, mostly green and red clad Mexico national soccer team fans for the CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinal between Mexico and Panama.

Little did those 81,410 know that Wednesday was really Panama’s party and not Mexico’s.

Panama shocked the 2013 Gold Cup by beating Mexico twice, the latest Wednesday’s 2-1 semifinal victory, to advance to Sunday’s final against the United States. It was only Panama’s second victory against Mexico in 14 matches.

“No, I don’t think [we ruined the party], because the party is ours now,” Panama coach Julio Dely Valdez said. “I don’t think we’ve ruined it for anyone else. We were here to win the game and to get to the final and I don’t know if I’ve ruined the party for anyone.”

Panama’s party was a homecoming affair, as FC Dallas forward Blas Perez netted the first goal of the game for his native Panama in the 13th minute from a severe angle on the right side of the goal.

“For me, it’s an honor for me to score a goal here in Dallas, because I know there was people here from FC Dallas who were here to support us, so it was an honor to score here in Dallas,” Perez said.

Mexico quickly rained on Panama’s parade, while simultaneously igniting their fan base in the stands, by scoring in the 26th minute on a header by Luis Montes that was set up by a Marco Fabian cross.

Ultimately, it was a corner kick in the 61st minute that would really start a celebration that continued well after the clock had run out. Panama’s Roman Torres connected on a header off a corner kick for his first ever Gold Cup goal.

After the game, Panama’s players and coaches celebrated with a surprise guest of honor and arguably the most famous Panamanian athlete, Mariano Rivera, who crossed a few parking lots to catch the end of the game after the Yankees played the Texas Rangers at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

“That was spectacular,” Rivera said. “I’m grateful to the Lord to allow us to play the way we played and come out on top. I’m humbled to see my team play the way they did and win.”

The 2013 Gold Cup final will be a rematch of the 2005 final, Panama’s only prior appearance in the championship game. After a scoreless regulation, the United States took the game and the tournament, 3-1 in penalty kicks.

This year’s edition, 3 p.m. Sunday at Chicago’s Soldier Field, features the team with the most offensive production, the USA, against the team with the fewest goals against, Panama. No team has scored more than one goal against Panama in its last eight Gold Cup games.

“We’re going to go up against a rival who is a great squad,” Dely Valdez said. “I think we have a great possibility of raising the cup for the first time. I think we’re going to face the best team at this moment. They’re the team that’s scored the most goals and they’re going to face the team that has the fewest goals scored against, so it’s going to be a great match.”

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