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In a stunning turn of events on Wednesday, Panama dealt a major blow to the United States by securing a 5-4 victory on penalties in their CONCACAF Gold Cup semi-final held in San Diego. This surprising outcome sets up a highly anticipated final clash between Panama and Mexico.

Mexico, an impressive eight-time Gold Cup champion, secured their spot in the final with a dominant 3-0 win over Jamaica in Las Vegas.

While Mexico is considered the favorite heading into the final, Panama’s history of reaching the ultimate stage in the competition, having been runners-up in 2005 and 2013 (both times losing to the USA), adds an element of excitement. Despite never winning the Gold Cup before, Panama is determined to claim victory this time around.

The United States, who opted to field a squad without their key European-based players, suffered the disappointment of missing out on a final berth for only the second time since 2003. After a hard-fought match that ended 1-1 in regular and extra time, they were eliminated through a penalty shootout.

Panama coach Thomas Christiansen expressed his delight at reaching the final, acknowledging the hardships they had to endure along the way. He stated, “Getting into this final is the dream of every Panamanian. We had to suffer to achieve this victory, but that’s what makes it all the more rewarding.”

The match between the USA and Panama saw an energetic start from the Americans under the late afternoon Californian sunshine, with Cade Cowell hitting the post within the first minute. However, Panama had their chances too, with an offside ruling against Edgar Barcenas’ effort in the 29th minute, and American goalkeeper Matt Turner making an alert save in the 53rd minute to deny a header from Ismael Diaz.

Brandon Vazquez, rewarded with a starting position after scoring three goals as a substitute throughout the tournament, missed a promising opportunity as he fired high from close range, following excellent work from Cowell.

In stoppage time, there was a moment of drama as Diaz found the net but was flagged offside. Panama claimed that Djordje Mihailovic had handled the ball, but VAR review found no evidence to support the claim and upheld the offside decision.

The USA, who had to rely on extra time and penalties to defeat Canada in the quarter-finals, struggled to display their creative prowess against a determined Panama team.

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It was in the ninth minute of the first period of extra time when Panama finally broke the deadlock. Adalberto Carrasquilla lofted the ball over the top, allowing Ivan Anderson to round the out-rushing Turner and calmly slot the ball into the unguarded goal.

However, the USA quickly responded just six minutes later, as Jesus Ferreira volleyed the ball into the net after Jordan Morris had headed down a long ball into the box.

With both teams visibly fatigued in the scorching heat, the match ultimately went to a dramatic penalty shootout.

Unfortunately, an unsportsmanlike incident occurred when US defender Matt Miazga, after converting his penalty, taunted Cecilio Waterman in an unpleasant manner. Despite the provocation, Waterman maintained his composure and confidently scored his penalty.

As the shootout reached sudden death, Panama’s goalkeeper Orlando Mosquera emerged as the hero by diving to save Cristian Roldan’s crucial spot-kick.

With the opportunity to secure victory for Panama, Carrasquilla stepped up and flawlessly converted his penalty, sparking exuberant celebrations among his teammates and compatriots.

USA interim coach B.J. Callaghan, who will soon be replaced by Gregg Berhalter, expressed his pride in the young team despite the painful defeat. He acknowledged the invaluable experience gained by the players during the tournament, believing it will benefit the team in the long run.

In the other semi-final match between Mexico and Jamaica, Mexico quickly asserted their dominance by scoring in the second minute through a clinical finish from Henry Martin. They extended their lead to 2-0 in the 30th minute with an exquisite free-kick from Luis Chavez that sailed over the wall and dipped under the bar into the top corner.

Although Michail Antonio had two close attempts for Jamaica in the second half, Mexico remained in control and sealed their victory and place in the final in Las Vegas during stoppage time. Roberto Alvarado expertly side-footed a low cross into the net to secure Mexico’s spot in the championship match.

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