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Panama takes first points in Hexagonal stage of CONCACAF 2018 World Cup qualifying

Big win on the road for Los Canaleros in their opening game of the final round of CONCACAF qualifying for Russia 2018.

Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

Perhaps the perception Panama was the underdog against Honduras was misguided from the start. Los Catrachos are formidable in San Pedro Sula, but Los Canaleros have their own qualities. An experienced Panama squad rode its luck to extend its impressive recent hold over a familiar regional rival:

The match was no walk-over, and the goal that decided the game was unusual: 22-year-old Fidel Escobar struck a free kick straight at the wall, and watched as the Honduran players generously parted to let the shot through. A deflection carried the ball past 'keeper Donis Escober.

The goal stood up as the match-winner, though Honduras missed out on a late equalizer when Alberth Elis took his eye off a spinning ball and flubbed a tap-in.

The away-win might not be surprising to Panama's capable and experienced squad, but it does force a quick adjustment to general expectations of this tournament.

Los Canaleros have settled the question of whether it is they or Honduras who should be favored for fourth place (and a playoff against the fifth-best team in Asia for a World Cup berth) in this tournament: Panama is the early front-runner for the best-of-the-rest position in the Hex.