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2018 CONCACAF Men’s U-20 Championship, Qualification Stage, Round 1 round-up: Panama takes a big step toward 2019 U-20 World Cup

A narrow win gives Panama’s U-20 World Cup qualification hopes a big boost on the first day of the Qualification Stage of the 2018 CONCACAF’s Men’s U-20 Championship.

Panama v Tunisia: Group G - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

There are six teams in the Qualification Stage of the 2018 CONCACAF Men’s U-20 Championship: divided into two groups of three, chasing four available berths at the 2019 U-20 World Cup. It is expected that the USA and Mexico will win Groups G and H of the Qualification Stage respectively, and claim two of the U-20 World Cup spots.

The opening round of games in each group didn’t feature either the USA or Mexico, and was therefore expected to answer the question of which two other teams would be representing CONCACAF at the 2019 U-20 World Cup. Panama established itself as the favorite to qualify ahead of El Salvador out of Group H, but no clear answer was provided by the game between Honduras and Costa Rica in Group G.

Group G: Honduras 1-1 Costa Rica

This game started well for Honduras. Josue Villafranca scored his seventh goal of the tournament in the 20th minute: the first goal Costa Rica has conceded in this competition. But tempers frayed over the course of the first half, and Los Catrachos’ Mariano Alvarez was sent off in the 37th minute for shoving an opponent. Playing a man up tilted the game back Costa Rica’s way. Los Ticos equalized in the 47th minute through Andres Gomez.

But Honduras held its own, kept Costa Rica at bay, and even registered the last meaningful attempt on goal.

The two teams are separated by fair-play points at present, meaning Costa Rica has the tiebreaker advantage over Honduras by virtue of not having had a man sent off. But it is more likely that the results of their respective games against the USA will decide which of these teams qualifies for the 2019 U-20 World Cup. It could be both, of course - though that would require the USA do a lot worse at this tournament than currently expected.

Next game in Group G: Costa Rica vs USA - 7:30 pm, Eastern; Friday, November 16, 2018

Group H: Panama 1-0 El Salvador

El Salvador ‘keeper Rodrigo Artiga put in a heroic shift to keep the game close. Panama rained 23 shots on goal, eight on target, but found the net just once. Second-half sub Axel Mckenzie deftly curved a shot past Artiga to put Panama up in the 74th minute. Los Canaleros closed the game out from there.

Los Canaleros will like their chances of qualifying for the 2019 U-20 World Cup from here. El Salvador needs at least a point against Mexico in its next game to preserve any hope of making it to next year’s big U-20 tournament.

Next game in Group H: El Salvador vs Mexico - 5:15 pm, Eastern; Friday, 16 November, 2018