US edges closer to World Cup

Christian Pulisic of the US celebrates his goal against Panama during the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying match at Orlando City Stadium Friday. — AFP

ORLANDO — Christian Pulisic fired the United States to a 4-0 win over Panama Friday that saw the Americans inch closer to a 2018 World Cup berth.

The brilliant 19-year-old scored one goal and made another in a sensational early barrage that left Panama reeling.

Pulisic opened the scoring on eight minutes and beautifully set up strike partner Jozy Altidore to make it two and compound a nightmare start for Panama, which now looks destined to settle for a play-off match against either Syria or Australia to land a World Cup place for the first time in its history.

Honduras, whose match in Costa Rica was put back a day because of adverse weather, also remains in the hunt in the North and Central America and Caribbean region (CONCACAF).

For the Americans, however, a win against bottom of the hexagonal table Trinidad and Tobago Tuesday will seal their ticket for an eighth consecutive Finals — and even a point should do it.

Trinidad and Tobago seized a lead against Mexico in San Luis Potosi before the regional powerhouse roared back for a 3-1 victory.

The result left Mexico on 21 points and on course for a record haul of 24 if it can beat Honduras in San Pedro Sula Tuesday.

Trinidad and Tobago’s Shahdon Winchester put the visitors ahead in the 66th minute. With El Tri struggling to find momentum it looked as if defeat was a possibility.

Manager Juan Carlos Osorio sent in Carlos Vela, Oribe Peralta and Hirving Lozano in the second half and Lozano grabbed an equalizer that energized Mexico. Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez put the hosts ahead before Hector Herrera added a third goal in injury time.

In Orlando, Pulisic’s youthful, skillful exuberance proved the key to unlocking the most miserly of backlines.

Pulisic settled any US nerves with a brilliant display in the eighth.

Altidore flicked the ball on and after the Dortmund star escaped the challenge of Roman Torres, and Pulisic rounded Jaime Penedo and slid home from a tight angle.

Pulisic impressed again in the 19th, picking up the ball on the left wing and firing in a cross that was tapped in by Altidore.

The outcome was sealed in the 43rd. Wood was tripped in the area by Armando Cooper and Altidore stepped up and chipped the ball down the middle.

Ivory Coast closer to World Cup

Ivory Coast rode its luck as it crept closer to a fourth consecutive World Cup appearance by drawing 0-0 away to Mali Friday in a 2018 Africa zone qualifier.

In a scrappy game, Mali created most of the clear-cut chances and came closest to breaking the deadlock when an Adama Niane shot rattled the crossbar during the second half.

Several Ivorians were yellow carded for fouls and time wasting, including English Premier League defenders Eric Bailly of Manchester United and Serge Aurier of Tottenham Hotspur.

Ivory Coast leads Group C with eight points from five matches, two points more than Morocco.

Only group winners in Africa qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. — Agencies