ORLANDO, Fla. -- Blas Perez scored both Panama goals as the Canaleros took a 2-1 win over Bolivia in the Copa America Centenario Group D opener at Camping World Stadium Monday night.
Perez, a Vancouver Whitecaps forward, converted in the 11th minute and Juan Carlos Arce tied the score for Bolivia in the 54th minute. Panama’s Colombian coach, Hernan Dario Gomez, went to a 3-4-3 formation late in the second half and the three-striker alignment paid off as Perez scored the deciding goal in the 87th minute.
Panama threatened early, San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Alberto Quintero and Perez earning free kicks in the opening five minutes. Former Colorado Rapids midfielder Gabriel Torres’ free kick was tipped over the bar in the sixth minute. Armando Cooper volleyed high from close range in the ninth minute. Panama earned a controversial free kick after a clash between Earthquakes midfielder Arturo Godoy and Arce. The Canaleros played the ball short, Quintero crossing for Perez’ sliding finish past Carlos Lampe in the 11th minute.
Bolivia recovered and went on the offensive. Arce one-timed a cross that was saved by Jaime Penedo in the 13th minute. Penedo knocked away a header off a Martin Smedberg-Dalence free kick in the 17th minute. Pedro Azogue’s shot was deflected for a corner by Felipe Baloy in the 27th minute. New York Cosmos’ forward Yasmani Duk earned a free kick in the 31st minute.
Perez continued to threaten, a redirection saved off a Quintero feed in the 27th minute, then breaking in alone on Lampe, Bolivian defenders recovering, in the 31st minute.
Bolivia tied the score as Arce capitalized on a failed clearance by Harold Cummings off a free kick, scoring on a left-foot half volley from point-blank range with Penedo out of the net.
Duk went down in the penalty area after being challenged from behind by Cummings after going in alone off a long clearance in the 59th minute, Costa Rican referee Ricardo Montero allowing play to continue.
Panama went on the offensive in the second half, adding strikers Luis Tejada (56th minute) and Croatia-based Abdiel Arroyo (74th) in place of midfielders Torres and Cooper, plus midfielder Amilcar Enriquez for Cummings (64th minute).
Panama’s ability to penetrate failed for most of the second half, the Canaleros resorting to long distance attempts. Gabriel Gomez fired high (67th), Tejada’s goal was disallowed for offside a minute later, Perez’ drive off a Tejada knock down was saved (70th).
But the Canaleros’ changes began to pay off. Quintero earned a corner off a Cooper feed, his shot knocked away by a diving Lampe in the 74th minute. Lampe then grabbed Baloy’s fallaway header off the corner. In the 85th minute, Gomez’ left-footer off an Adolfo Machado throw-in drew out Lampe, Tejada controlling the shot in front of a diving Lampe, but firing a left-footer high. Two minutes later, Bolivia had a chance to break the deadlock, Arce firing high. Panama took possession and went forward, Perez slamming a shot into an open net after Arroyo broke in on the right of the penalty area, Lampe advancing to cut the angle.