PANAMA CITY, Panama -- No one needs to tell Panama how good Brazil can be. The Panamanian team experienced it first-hand on Thursday night, when Brazil shocked the baseball world with a 3-2 win against the host country in the opener of the Panama World Baseball Classic qualifier.
But the stakes are higher this time around, as the two teams will meet for an 8 p.m. ET matchup on Monday night for the right to play in the 2013 Classic. Fans can watch a free, live stream of the game at worldbaseballclassic.com.
Brazil has come a long way in 2012. In May, Yan Gomes, the national team's catcher and No. 3 hitter, became the first Brazilian-born player to make his MLB debut. Now, the country has beaten Panama on that team's home turf and defeated Colombia, 7-1, on Saturday to reach the qualifier final.
"I'm very proud of the team. They're playing with a lot of confidence," Brazil manager Barry Larkin said after Saturday's victory. "The plan is to win. We're in position to win, but we haven't won anything yet. We need to be focused at all times, and we know that we have one more game, and we know that we have to win if we want to win it all."
While Brazil watched on Sunday, Panama engaged in the most entertaining game of the qualifier thus far, claiming a 9-7 victory over Colombia in a back-and-forth affair. If Panama manager Roberto Kelly had any hair on his head, it probably would have turned gray.
Kelly saw his team's early 6-0 lead trimmed to 6-4. Then, a 9-4 lead turned into a 9-7 nail-biter in the late stages of an elimination game that also featured two ejections and the liveliest crowd of the tournament.
"It was stressful, because we would score, and they would come right back," Kelly said afterwards. "They weren't giving in. They were going to go to the last out. It was fun, obviously, because we won the game, but during the game there was no fun about it."
Panama and Brazil engaged in a tightly contested showdown in the tournament opener, which illustrated the quality pitching for both sides. But the pitching situations have changed greatly since Thursday night for the two teams.
By winning its first two games, Brazil got to rest its staff on Sunday, which is paramount given the World Baseball Classic's pitch-count restrictions. Larkin will be without the services of his previous two starters, Oscar Nakaoshi and Andre Rienzo, meaning he will have 11 pitchers at his disposal.
Kelly, meanwhile, will have just eight available pitchers, as Alberto Acosta, Euclides Bethancourt, Manny Corpas, Paolo Espino and Eliecer Navarro are all ineligible to take the mound. But Kelly still has the benefit of a powerful lineup that includes Phillies All-Star catcher Carlos Ruiz, Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada,free-agent slugger Carlos Lee and Ruben Rivera, all of whom have contributed greatly to the team's past two victories.
"Brazil is a tough team," Kelly said. "[It is] a team that is really good at small ball, taking advantage of their opportunities and pitching well. It's a tough match-up."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.