GUATEMALA CITY — Canada was denied its first trip to the FIFA Futsal World Cup in 32 years in painful fashion Friday, losing a penalty shootout to Panama in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Futsal Championship.
After both goalies had made a save apiece and with the shootout tied 3-3, Canadian veteran Ian Bennett — who had knotted the game at 1-1 with a goal early in the second half — stepped up to the ball.
The reigning Major Arena Soccer League MVP hammered a shot that ricocheted off Panama goalkeeper Jaime Londono's arm and bounced off the crossbar without going in. The 37-year-old from Hamilton looked on in disbelief.
Alfonso Maquensi then scored the winning penalty in the 4-3 shootout win.
The Panama players ended up in a delirious dogpile on the floor while the stunned Canadians wondered what might have been.
The four semifinalists at the CONCACAF tournament will represent North and Central America and the Caribbean at the FIFA Futsal World Cup this September in Lithuania.
"Obviously very very sad," said Canadian midfielder Marco Rodriguez, his voice dripping with emotion. "There's not much we can do. This is what happens, this is part of football. We worked really hard for five years. Unfortunately penalties, they didn't come through for us. We gave our all. I'm proud of the boys.
"We're in a country where we're on lockdown for the last, I don't know, who knows how long. We had to work everything through video, Zoom. Everybody left every drop they had in their system to try and be here the best they can be. Kudos to Panama. The luck was on their side today. That's how football goes."
Nazim Belguendouz, captain Robert Renaud and Rodriguez scored for Canada in the shootout. Maxime Leconte's shot was saved by Londono.
Canadian 'keeper Joshua Lemos, who had a fine game, denied Carlos Perez's shot but could not stop Maquensi.
"Lemos is probably the best goalie in CONCACAF," said Canada coach Kyt Selaidopoulos. "He did a fantastic job. He's dedicated. For me, he was our best player."
Lemos and the Canadians held a Panama team that had scored 16 times in its first two games to just one goal.
"The boys did well. I'm proud of them," said Selaidopoulos.
Tied 1-1 after 40 minutes of regulation time, the game went to two five-minute periods of extra time. Canada went into defensive mode as the clock counted down with Panama pressing.
The Canadian men have not qualified for the Futsal World Cup since the inaugural event in 1989 in the Netherlands, where they failed to make it out of the first round after beating Japan and losing to Argentina and Belgium.
Panama finished runner-up in CONCACAF in 2012 and was third in 2012.
Down 1-0 after conceding late in the first half, Canada pulled even five minutes after the break.
Londono could not control a free kick by Eduardo Jauregui and Bennett, stationed to the side, tucked the ball in. It was Bennett's third goal of the tournament.
The goal came soon after Frederico Moojen, who won the Golden Boot as the top scorer at the 2016 CONCACAF tournament, had hammered a shot off the Panama goalpost.
The Canadians had hung tough in the early going, defending well and creating several scoring chances.
But Panama finally broke through with 21 seconds remaining in the half. Showing good movement on the ball, Abdiel Ortiz wrong-footed a defender and beat Lemos with a low shot.
Canada (1-2-0) placed second in Group C after beating Haiti 4-2 and losing 5-1 to two-time defending champion Costa Rica. it marked the first time in three trips to the CONCACAF championship that Canada had made it out of the group stage.
The win over Haiti was just Canada's second in its three trips to the tournament. The Canadians finished seventh in 2012 and sixth in 2016.
Canada came close to making the 2016 FIFA Futsal World Cup, denied by a 7-4 loss to Cuba in its final group game at the CONCACAF qualifier. The Canadians lost to Costa Rica 3-2 and beat Curacao 7-4 before falling to Cuba.
Panama (3-0-0) won Group B, defeating Suriname 11-1 and Mexico 5-4 with Perez scoring a hat trick in each game.
The 2021 CONCACAF tournament was originally scheduled for last May but was delayed due to the pandemic. French Guiana, Martinique and Guadeloupe withdrew in the interim, reducing the field to 13.
The indoor futsal game is five-a-side with two 20-minute halves. The clock stops whenever the ball goes out of play or there is a break in play. Each team starts with one goalkeeper and four outfield players on the pitch, with unlimited substitutions.
The U.S. blanked the Dominican Republic 2-0 in the first quarterfinal of the day. It was Costa Rica versus Suriname and Guatemala versus El Salvador in the later quarterfinals Friday.
Costa Rica, Cuba, Panama and Guatemala represented CONCACAF at the 2016 World Cup.
Brazil has dominated the world futsal scene, winning five of the eight FIFA World Cups. Spain has won twice and finished runner-up to Brazil three times. Argentina is the defending champion.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 7, 2021
The Canadian Press