Mexico ended their group stage by winning Group E after a disappointing 1-1 tie against Panama in the 2023 U17 CONCACAF Championship. Mexico was the better side until getting a goal and then proceeded to go downhill from that point on. They could have lost the match and first place in the final minutes of play. Mexico will now play Nicaragua in the Round of 16 and hope to improve after a tournament participation that is not going as expected, while Panama will face Cuba.
The first half started with Mexico making some changes like starting with Joaquin Moxica instead of Stephano Carrillo and giving Yerar Azcarate his first start, as Mexico only needed the point to win the group. A bad clearance from Panama allowed Azcarate to get off a shot in the area that went just wide. The game was even, with Mexico controlling possession but Panama looking dangerous on counters. Then a cross into the area by Moxica was deemed to be a handball and a penalty kick was given to Mexico. Replays showed that it was a bad call and shouldn’t have been given. Moxica took the penalty, but got off a terrible right footed shot that was blocked by Panama goalkeeper Manuel Romero. The rebound was left in the path of Gael Alvarez, but his shot was also blocked by Romero. Mexico had wasted the best chance possible. Alvarez then got off a cross that turned into a shot that hit the post. A cross into the area was headed by Jose Rodriguez, but right to Mexico goalkeeper Fernando Delgado, in a great opportunity for Panama that they wasted. Alvarez then made a good run but got off a weak left footed shot that went wide. Then after a great combination play, Jose Arroyo got a cross into the area and from just outside of it Yerar Azcarate was able to connect with it, getting a great right footed shot past Romero for the goal and the 1-0 lead. It was a great strike, and Mexico had taken the deserved lead. After the goal, Panama got most of the possession as they looked for the equalizer, while Mexico sat back. Mexico took the lead into the locker room, but the first warning signs came in after Mexico dropped their level once they had the lead.
The second half started with Mexico subbing out Isaac Martinez for Cristian Inda, while Panama subbed out Luis Mendoza and Hector Rios for Edward Gonzalez and Kevin Walder. Mexico almost made a terrible mistake when after a back pass, Delgado bounced the ball off of a Panamanian attacker but luckily for him, the ball bounced right to his hands. Then off a cross into the area, Delgado went out to clear the ball and crashed into a Walder and the ref gave Panama a penalty kick. Replays showed that it wasn’t a PK and it was as bad a decision as the one made with the penalty awarded to Mexico. Jose Rodriguez took the shot, but his right footed attempt was saved by Delgado. Unfortunately for Mexico, the rebound fell to Walder, whose right footed shot was also stopped by Delgado but left there for Anel Ryce, who got a right footed tap in into the net for the tying goal at 1-1. Mexico had allowed Panama to get back into it, and paid for it dearly. Panama then subbed out Jose Rodriguez for Luis Gaitan, while Mexico subbed out Jose Suarez for Jose Muro. Off of a corner kick, Javen Romero got a wide open header but it went wide. Panama subbed out Anel Ryce for Joshua Pierre. Mexico started to gain possession, but they were doing a poor job of creating any chances. Panama subbed out Oldemar Castillo for Ricardo Jimenez. Off of a corner kick, Panama wasted a great chance when Delgado looked caught in no man’s land, but Panama failed to get a good header off the cross. Inda then got off a left footed shot from outside the area, but the ball went wide. Another defensive mistake from Mexico allowed Walder to get a chance from close range, but his right footed shot went wide in a bad miss. Mexico subbed out Jose Arroyo for Alex Valencia. Mexico started to gain more possession than Panama, but they never created chances even with a Panamanian team that was cramping up. Incredibly Panama had the best chance after Kevin Garcia made a terrible clearance right to Gonzalez, who in the area got off a close range shot that went wide, missing a great opportunity to win the match. It was the last one and Mexico was lucky to end with the tie after a very poor second half.
Mexico won Group E but overall hasn’t give a good tournament so far. The tournament started with a great result and great play from Mexico when they crushed Curaçao by a 9-0 score. They then faced a tougher task, playing hosts Guatemala and got a 2-0 win that was a good result, but their level of play wasn’t great. Now they closed with a game against Panama where they neither had a good result nor a good level of play. The second half was especially worrisome and although Mexico only needed the point to win the group because of goal differential, they came closer to losing the match that winning it. Now they will face a Nicaraguan side that should be easier than Panama and Guatemala, but it’s also a side that troubled Mexico in the U16 UNCAF FIFA Forward tournament. In that tournament, they not only got a 1-1 tie but Mexico needed a last minute goal to get the win. Nicaragua then proceeded to lose badly against Costa Rica (3-1) and Guatemala (4-0) before closing out their tournament by defeating Cuba (6-3). They will be tougher than before, but Mexico still should be favored although Coach Raul Chabrand should get things going fast, because the team has been going in the wrong direction.