The stakes were high in Panama City Tuesday night, but the Canadian men's soccer team team came up short. Following their somewhat-surprising 1-0 home win over Panama last week, a win or a draw in the return leg would have put the Canadians in strong position to advance to the final six-team "hexagonal" round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2014 World Cup. However, the Canadians fell 2-0 to Panama on the strength of goals from Rolando Blackburn and Blas Ortega. While the loss doesn't completely doom Canada's World Cup qualifying hopes, as they still have games left against Honduras (on the road) and Cuba (at home), it certainly diminishes them; Canada's now in third in their group, and only the top two teams will advance.
This was never going to be an easy game for the Canadians, and local fans did their part to made it harder. They partied outside the Canadian hotel until 4 a.m. Tuesday morning, setting off flares and fireworks and generally making life tougher for Canada. Game day itself held unexpected surprises as well, as a bank of lights went out at the stadium midway through the first half, necessitating a delay of 15 minutes until they were replaced. Still, on the day, Panama was by far the better team, controlling possession and creating chances throughout. They were rewarded in the 23rd minute when Blackburn brilliantly headed home an Armando Cooper corner just inside the far post, and Ortega gave them plenty of insurance with his 57th-minute strike. Canada didn't perform particularly well all night on defence or in the midfield, and their strikers just didn't have too many opportunities. That ensured Panama would collect the three points for a victory, putting them in first place in Group C with nine points from four games.
Canada's path to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil gets more difficult as a result. Yes, they still face Cuba at Toronto's BMO Field on October 12, and that bodes well; Cuba's pointless thus far and Canada beat them 1-0 on the road in June. Anything can happen in a particular game, though, especially in CONCACAF qualifying. Even if the Canadians can pull off a victory against the Cubans, the lack of points from Tuesday's fixture means they'd only have 10 points heading into the final match against Honduras, and that may not be enough. Panama has nine points with two games left (Honduras at home, Cuba away), while Honduras is level with Canada on seven points and faces Panama away before taking on the Canadians at home. There's still a substantial chance for Canada to go through to the hexagonal and press on with the dream of making their first World Cup since 1986, but the road just got a lot tougher thanks to Tuesday night's defeat.