WELLINGTON, New Zealand–Argentina captain Angel Correa scored both his team’s goals as the tournament favorites were held to a 2-2 draw by Panama on Saturday in their opening match at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup.
Correa faced a career crisis last year when a routine medical checkup, preceding his signing with Atletico Madrid, revealed a blocked ventricle in his heart. He underwent surgery in New York and was sidelined for seven months before rejoining his team just in time for the South American qualifying tournament.
Correa dispelled any doubts about his fitness Saturday when he put his team ahead in the Group B match with goals in the 14th and 79th minute. But Panama quickly replied on each occasion to take only their second point from a match at the Under-20 showpiece.
In other matches on the opening day of a tournament which began in the shadow of the FIFA corruption scandal, hosts New Zealand drew 0-0 with Ukraine and the United States came from a goal down to beat Myanmar 2-1 in Group A. Ghana was due to play Austria later Saturday in Group B.
Correa is tipped as a likely star of this World Cup, set to follow illustrious compatriots Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi in using the Under-20 tournament as a pathway to fame.
He produced a mature and composed performance which did everything but lift Argentina to victory. Correa received a flat cross from Tomas Martinez in front of goal in the 14th minute and shrugged off pressure from defenders to divert the ball wide of Panama goalkeeper Jamie De Gracia.
Panama equalized within five minutes with a goal which staked an early claim to being the best of the tournament. Jhamal Rodriguez took the ball on his right foot 20 meters from goal and threaded his powerful shot between defenders and into the top-right corner of the net.
Panama troubled the Argentina defense throughout the match, managing 12 shots on goal but Correa seemed to have clinched a win for his team with his goal in the 79th minute. He swept on a ball that had been parried by De Gracia, who was taken off his line, and slotted the ball into an unguarded net to put his team ahead 2-1.
But Panama again rallied and scored only five minutes later through Fidel Escobar to earn a draw, a point and a strong possibility of advancing from Group play to the round of 16.
The United States survived an early shock against tournament debutants Myanmar.
Yan Naing Oo put Myanmar ahead after only nine minutes when he stabbed home a shot at close range after the United States failed to clear a corner.
Goals to Maki Tall in the 17th minute and captain Emerson Hyndman in the 56th clinched the United States’ win which took them to the top of Group A. The winning goal came from a counter-attack led by Rubio Rubin who provided the pass for Hyndman to score.
In the opening match of the tournament, Ukraine tried hard but was unable to break down New Zealand’s defense. Ukraine had 17 shots on goal to New Zealand’s six but most attempts were off target.
Artem Biesiedin was the danger man for Ukraine and twice came close to scoring but couldn’t finish while New Zealand almost stole the three points with a late, sliding shot by Noah Billingsley which was saved by Bohdan Sarnavskyi.
��We created many chances but we need to improve and convert the opportunities we are creating,�� Ukraine coach Oleksandr Petrokov said. ��Improving is our big challenge now.��