Wow, what a chain of events in last nights CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers. Pandemonium turned to heartbreak in Panama, and Mexico goes home breathing a huge sigh of relief. Last night proves again why soccer can be one of the most spectacular and tragic sports in the entire world. For those of you on the east coast who missed it because it ended so late or because you thought it was all over, I will break down how everything shook out over the course of the night.
Lets start by going over exactly what each team needed in the HEX to go to the World Cup. The United State and Costa Rica had already punched their ticket to Brazil next year, Honduras controlled their own destiny needing just a point (They needed a tie for those who don’t know how the point system works) to secure its place in the World Cup. Mexico would move onto the elimination game with New Zealand next month by simply winning or drawing with Costa Rica. Panama needed a Costa Rica win over Mexico combined with a win over the United States. In reality the United States partially controlled Mexicos destiny and could ultimately keep them from advancing to the World Cup for the first time since 1990.
The games started simultaneously at 9:30 PM EST, and it didn’t take long for the first fireworks to go off that shook the CONCACAF standings.
9:47 PM: After an American turnover on their half of the pitch put Panama on the break, Gabriel Torres made them pay in the 17th minute with a screamer past American keeper Brad Guzan. Panama was doing their part, now they just needed help from Costa Rica. Panama 1 United States 0, Costa Rica 0 Mexico 0.
9:54 PM: With Panama ahead, Mexico had little wiggle room for any kind of mistakes. Unfortunately for them, living on the brink caught up to them in the 24th minute at the Estadio Nacional in Costa Rica when Bryan Ruiz put away a absolute gem of a goal in the top left corner after evading two Mexican defenders. As it stood the score line looked like this Panama 1 United States 0, and Costa Rica 1 Mexico 0.
9:58 PM: Mexico knew the pressure was on them to get a result and instead of hanging their heads as they had done during all of qualifying, they took the attack back at Costa Rica. In the 28th minute Chicharito broke away from the Costa Rican defense and found himself one on one with the keeper, the keeper made a last second save that knocked it offChicharitos feet but right into the path of trailing Oribe Peralta who tucked it home to equalize for El Tri. Panama 1 United States 0, Costa Rica 1 Mexico 1.
11:03 PM: In the 64th Minute Costa Rica were on the break and Cristian Gamboa made a great run along the sideline, crossed it in just over the Mexican defense right to the waiting Costa Rican striker Alvaro Saborio who put it away. As it stood, Panama was through and Mexico were out. Panama 1 United States 0, Costa Rica 2 Mexico 1.
11:03PM: But just 7 seconds after the Costa Rican goal the United States lent a helping hand to their noisy neighbors from the south with a set piece goal from Michael Orozco. I’m still not sure how the ball got all the way to him but it did and he finished in the bottom right corner. Panama 1 United States 1, Costa Rica 2 Mexico 1.
11:22 PM: After the United States pushed a couple men forward the Panamanian team saw its chance to counter in the 83rd minute and get the vital goal it needed, and it did just that. After Panama whipped a cross infront of goal, U.S player Michael Orozco missed his clearance, forcing goalkeeper Brad Guzan to punch it away. Unfortunately for the USMNT and Mexico for that matter it was a poor punch from Guzan. The ball fell to Luis Tejada who put it in the back of the net and his goal sent the country of Panama into a frenzy. Panama 2 United States 1, Costa Rica 2 Mexico 1.
11:29 PM: The signal for extra time in the Panama United States game was held up. The fourth official showed the raucous Panamanian crowd 3 minutes of added time. The Panamanian fans could almost taste a chance at World Cup glory. All they needed to do was hold the United States for just a bit longer.
11:30 PM: Disaster struck just one minute later, after Brad Davis sent a cross into the Panamanian 18 yard box Graham Zusi out jumped everyone to put a goal into the back of the net. The crowd went silent and you could see all the Panamanian players fall into a state of complete and utter shock. No one could believe what was happening. They now needed a goal in the final minute to qualify. Panama 2 United States 2, Costa Rica 2 Mexico 1.
11:31 PM: After the game restarted Panama flung all their men forward, when they gave the ball away cheaply Terrance Boyd and Aron Johansson broke at the Panamanian defenders and still in shock from the previous goal, the defenders just lackadaisically retreated letting Johansson receive the ball, set up, and bury it into the bottom left corner.
11:32 PM: The full time whistle blew in Costa Rica and Panama officially ending the qualifying stages in CONCACAF. The sight at the Estadio Nacional in Costa Rica was one of a relieved but not happy Mexican side who knew they were just saved by arch rival United States. The scene in Panama however was an absolute tragedy. Panamanian players were all over the pitch either crying, laying motionless, or yelling obscenities at themselves as they walked to the locker room. As a United States fan I almost felt bad we won, we just did to Panama what we did four years prior to Costa Rica, scoring a goal in the final minutes to end a teams World Cup dream. Full Time: United States 3 Panama 2, Costa Rica 2 Mexico 1, and Honduras 2 Jamaica 2.
Mexico now host New Zealand on November 14th before heading across the Pacific for the return leg on November 20th. The aggregate winner of that will clinch the last place in the World Cup.
The final Hexagonal standings are pictured below