The U.S. will get a rematch with Panama Wednesday night in Houston.The first team to ever defeat the U.S. in CONCACAF Gold Cup group play broke the hearts of the El Salvador team and their thousands of fans who packed RFK Stadium Sunday evening by winning a penalty shootout 5-3 after forcing extra time with an 89th minute goal by Luis Tejada that tied the score at 1-1.
Panama will face the U.S. on Wednesday night at Reliant Stadium, with the winner of that match facing either Mexico or Honduras in the final June 25 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. The U.S. and Panama will open the doubleheader at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time and will be followed by Mexico and Honduras at 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time.
El Salvador no doubt thought that the game was won and a berth in the semifinals secured after Rodolfo Zelaya's 78th minute penalty. But Panama pressed forward for an equalizer and got their reward at the last possible minute. A ball from the right wing was bobbled high up into the air by Salvadoran keeper Miguel Montes. Amidst a mad scramble at the back post, Tejada nudged the ball into the arms of Montes. But Costa Rican linesman Leonel Leal, stationed on the near sideline, immediately indicated with his flag that the ball had gone over the line for the equalizing goal.
Television replays were inconclusive, but it should be noted that Leal was in perfect position to make the call, looking directly down the goal line. Nevertheless, the decision set off howls of protest from the Salvadoran players and fans; at least two people had to be removed forcibly by security after charging the playing surface. The bad feeling continued after the end of regulation, with Blas Perez shown a straight red card and Luis Anaya sent off for a second yellow card after the two were involved in a skirmish after the end of normal time.
Despite scoring El Salvador's only goal and scoring in the shootout, Zelaya will no doubt wonder what might have been if he had converted his first penalty attempt in the 23rd minute. Referee Walter Quesada had awarded the penalty after Rudis Corrales had toppled over in the penalty area after suffering minimal contact from Luis Henriquez. Zelaya's penalty was a wormkiller with little pace, and Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo had little trouble saving it.
Zelaya's second penalty, the one that put El Salvador ahead, was more emphatic. The penalty itself was the correct decision, as replays showed that Roman Torres had tripped up Zelaya in the box. Suitably offended, Zelaya blasted into the top corner.
Both sides had chances to win the match in extra time. Panama's Felipe Baloy had a free header off a corner kick in the 110th minute, but his point-blank chance was denied by Montes. Off the ensuing Panama corner, Torres had two chances to win the match, only to be denied by the Salvadoran substitute Osael Romero, who was stationed on the goal line. El Salvador's chance came in the last seconds of extra time, as Steve Purdy found himself alone in the box with the ball at his feet. But Purdy took far too long to get a shot away, and with Panama flinging bodies in his way, Purdy passed to Romero, whose shot was blocked harmlessly away.
In the shootout, Dennis Alas was the villain for El Salvador, as his low penalty was saved comfortably by Penedo going low to his left. In the end, it was that man Tejada who dealt the coup de grace penalty, rolling the ball into the corner of the net as the pockets of the crowd clad in red screamed for joy.