CARY, N.C. — The Panama women’s national team needed a draw to advance out of the 2018 Concacaf Women’s Championship group stage, vying for its first-ever World Cup qualification.
Instead of settling for a tie, the young Central American team played to win, defeating Mexico for the first time in tournament history 2-0 at Sahlen’s Stadium.
Prior to Wednesday’s match, Mexico had won all five meetings against Panama and outscored the team 19-3. Despite El Tri’s 25 shots, it could not find the back of the net.
Mexico forward Kayla Johnson, who also plays for Sky Blue FC in the National Women’s Soccer League, hit the woodwork on two of her six shots, only one of which was on target.
But it was not all Mexican errors that handed Panama victory. For the third time in Group A play, Panama’s 17-year-old goalkeeper Yenith Bailey stood strong for her national team. She made three crucial saves in the first half and totaled six over 90 minutes.
Bailey’s biggest save came in the fleeting seconds of first-half stoppage time. Panama midfielder Aldrith Quintero lunged to stop a Mexico cross, but her arm got in the way. Mexico forward Charlyn Corral took the penalty kick, rocketing the ball toward the lower right-hand corner of the net. With Mexico’s tournament fate on the line, the ball zoomed toward the goal, but Bailey ushered the shot to the right.
YENITH BAILEY 🙌🙌🙌
🇵🇦 🇵🇦 🇵🇦 pic.twitter.com/VCP7pJDw4y
— The Equalizer (@EqualizerSoccer) October 10, 2018
With the scored knotted at zero, Panama capitalized two minutes into the second half. Forward Karla Riley finished a quick cross for the opening goal, evading fallen Mexico goalkeeper Cecilia Santiago.
Panama substitute Lineth Cedeño added the insurance goal in the 86th minute. Her teammates on the bench rushing to embrace her, knowing what the late lead meant.
Panama took another step toward its first World Cup, while Mexico failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 2017
Panama will now most likely advance in the No. 2 position of Group A — behind the United States, which kicked off its final group match against Trinidad & Tobago at 7:30 p.m. ET Wednesday — and face the high-flying Canada national team in Sunday’s semifinals. Canada scored 12 goals against Cuba Monday and will finish Group B Thursday with a match against Costa Rica.