Three Points: Honduras v Panama

Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo (left) and midfielder Gabriel Gomez (right) leave the field after drawing against Haiti in the CONCACAF Gold Cup in Frisco, Texas, on July 7, 2015. (Photo: Mexsport)

FOXBOROUGH, Massachusetts – It’s an all-Central American duel as 2013 runner-up Panama and 2014 FIFA World Cup participant Honduras square off in the opener of a CONCACAF Gold Cup, Group A doubleheader on Friday at Gillette Stadium.

Here are Three Points to consider ahead of the game:

1) Points are critical
Both teams head in to Friday’s crucial second group stage fixture in need of points. While Honduras put forth a strong showing in a 2-1 loss to the United States, Panama was held to a 1-1 draw by an upstart Haiti side. Now sitting on zero and one point, respectively, the Central Americans will both be feeling the pressure on Friday as a victory for either team would go a long way towards ensuring progress to the Gold Cup quarterfinals. While Panama now face a more difficult route, having to play the U.S. in its final Group A fixture, Honduras face Haiti in Kansas City, Kansas, on July 13.

2) Can Panama rebound?
Considered by many a tournament dark horse, Panama now find itself on more precarious footing thanks to the stalemate with Haiti. The Canaleros were hoping to be on six points entering their final group stage match versus the Americans, but now face the prospect of having to get a result – possibly maximum points -- against Los Catrachos. On the other hand, if Panama can find its form and come away with a win, it would be in excellent position to advance past the group stage for a sixth straight time.

3) All eyes on Najar
If there is one player capable of providing a moment of genuine magic on Friday night in Foxborough, its Honduras playmaker Andy Najar. Currently plying his club trade with Anderlecht in the Belgian top-flight, Najar was often the best player on the field versus the U.S., and will need to again be at his sharpest if the Hondurans are going to take points from Panama. Just 22-years-old, Najar scored twice in the team’s crucial Gold Cup qualifying playoff with French Guiana and represented the Catrachos at both the 2012 Olympics and at the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

Bonus Points
• Returning to the fray for Honduras on Friday is midfielder Oscar Boniek Garcia. The Houston Dynamo man missed out on the team’s Gold Cup opener versus the U.S. with an ankle injury.
• Panama has twice featured in a Gold Cup final (2005, 2013), making Los Canaleros the only two-time runner up to have never lifted the trophy.