TAMPA, Florida – It was a moment to celebrate when Carlos Chavarria scored Nicaragua’s first-ever CONCACAF Gold Cup goal, a sensational strike that gave the Pinoleros a 1-0 lead over Panama in the 48th minute.
Perhaps the celebration lasted a little too long.
Less than a minute later, Panama equalized and eight minutes after that, the Panamanians netted what proved to be the winner in a 2-1 triumph Wednesday night at Raymond James Stadium.
The performance was better than in a 2-0 loss to Martinique in the opening game of Group B, but the result was just as tough to swallow for a Nicaraguan team that entered the tournament with high expectations.
“It started 1-0, but then some small things…logically because of a lack of international competition for some of the players…we had to be cold in that moment, but we’re playing with a team that needs some work in those areas,” Nicaragua coach Henry Duarte said. “A little bit asleep closing in on the defensive side. It’s a match that certainly we could have gotten more from.”
Duarte cited a lack of international experience for a lapse in concentration in critical spots that Panama exploited.
“It’s very tough. The team becomes euphoric, but they had their minds clearly on the match,” Duarte commented. “I would have liked, in that moment, to communicate to them to close the gaps, defend your man.”
There were positives, in controlling possession and defensive assignments at times. Those are improvements Duarte has seen in Nicaragua, where he said football has become the No. 1 sport.
But there’s more improvements that needs to be made, especially in the collective maturity of his team. Duarte said that it is something Panama, which regularly goes deep into World Cup qualifying and competes for honors in the Gold Cup, possesses.
“The Panamanian team has something that’s very important. It’s very mature,” he finished. “It’s very tough for the head coach to directly affect the player in that aspect, to control the game. It’s something the player obtains through international matches.”