Panama twice battled back from behind to claim a 2-2 draw against Argentina in an entertaining Group B opener at Wellington’s Regional Stadium. The Panamanians’ dogged refusal to accept defeat stole the headlines that would otherwise have belonged to Angel Correa, the Albiceleste star who bagged a brace.
Correa arrived in New Zealand hotly tipped to be among the tournament’s big stars and he more than lived up to his billing with an outstanding individual display. Certainly, when Argentina took the lead in 14 minutes, it was no surprise that the Atletico Madrid forward was the scorer, firing home expertly from eight yards after latching on to a cross from Tomas Martinez.
The goal was no more than Argentina deserved, and they continued to dominate. Panama, though, remained dangerous at the other end and just six minutes later they equalised with an early contender for goal of the tournament. Jhamal Rodriguez was the goalscorer, having picked up the ball in a seemingly harmless position only to turn and smash an unstoppable right-foot shot into the top corner from 25 yards.
It was a goal worthy of gracing any World Cup and, for a long time, it appeared that this would be the strike that would earn Panama a hard-earned share of the spoils. As it was, they had to work a little harder for their draw because Correa again popped up – this time with just ten minutes remaining – to inch Argentina in front. On this occasion, his goal was all about opportunism as he snatched on an error by goalkeeper Jaime De Gracia to knock the ball into the unguarded net from 16 yards.
But Panama weren’t ready to accept their seemingly certain fate and just four minutes later they again restored parity. Fidel Escobar was their hero, bursting through on to a Carlos Small cross to meet the ball on the half-volley and hammer a shot into the back of the net.
The underdogs could even have gone on to win it when Small missed the target after racing clean through, but they will be thrilled with a point that leaves them well placed in a section that also includes Ghana and Austria.