El Salvador return home for their fourth match of qualifying for World Cup 2022 on Thursday when they host Panama at Estadio Cuscatlan.
La Selecta have yet to win a match so far in the Octagonal phase, losing 3-0 to Canada in their previous game, while Panama were less than 15 minutes away from upsetting Mexico before eventually playing to a 1-1 draw.
After a couple of strong defensive displays to open this qualifying round, El Salvador saw their game with Canada start to get away from them in the early going, conceding twice after only 11 minutes.
Their commitment to hang back and neutralise their opponents worked to near perfection against the USA and Honduras, but it was nowhere to be found in Toronto as some sloppy defensive work gave the Canucks a comfortable win.
So far, the strategy for Hugo Perez and his team appears to be to get everyone behind the ball and shut down the opposition at all cost, however with zero goals after three matches, you would think that there will come a time soon where they will have to start taking more chances.
Scoring opportunities for this side have been at a premium, firing only two shots on target in this round of qualifying while going goalless in their previous five games in all competitions.
While they have had a passive approach to attacking, their defending has been highly aggressive, particularly in their last qualifier when they committed 21 fouls, many of them needless hacks as they appeared frustrated by the way that game had panned out.
At the moment, they are on a path that is virtually identical to the one they had in the final qualifying round for the 2010 World Cup when they also drew their first two games before losing match number three and eventually finishing in fifth.
It has been over 10 years since they triumphed over the Panamanians, beating them in a penalty shootout at the 2011 Gold Cup, although their last victory against them after 90 minutes came in a World Cup qualifying match in 2008 in San Salvador when they scored three times in the final 20 minutes to capture a 3-1 win.
For a second successive qualifying campaign, Panama are right in the thick of a tight race to reach the finals in 2022.
Los Canaleros are undefeated after three matches this round, though Thomas Christiansen knows that they had an opportunity for more in their previous outing.
Despite taking the lead after 28 minutes, they were unable to put Mexico away, conceding the equaliser late in the second half in a game that could have seen them move into first in the group.
That is now in the past, and looking ahead to their match on Thursday, they have to be encouraged by how well they played in their first away game last month, dominating Jamaica with six shots on target and 61% possession, winning 3-0.
Currently, in a three-way tie for second in the group, this is a pivotal week for them, hosting the United States on Sunday before heading north to face Canada the following week, the two teams who are tied with them right now on five points.
Throughout this qualifying cycle Panama have been relatively solid defensively, conceding only three goals this year in their nine qualifiers while scoring 25 times themselves.
In their 2018 campaign, their play away from home set them back, winning only once in the final qualifying round, and going scoreless on four occasions.
El Salvador World Cup Qualifying – North Central America form:
El Salvador form (all competitions):
Panama World Cup Qualifying – North Central America form:
Panama form (all competitions):
We say: El Salvador 0-1 Panama
La Selecta have made it clear that they intend to shut you down by any means necessary, but unfortunately, that approach has seen them look almost invisible in the attack.
Panama are a solid defensive side, with a striker in Blackburn who is in good goalscoring form at the moment, so we expect them to eventually find a breakthrough against these stubborn Salvadorians.