Photo credit: AP
Epic finish. Last night we saw Mexico come back from the brink of elimination not with a win, but with a loss and mathematical help from the United States national team. Mexico lost 1-2 to Costa Rica but USA beat Panama 3-2 and made sure Mexico remained in fourth place in Concacaf to enter the continental playoff versus New Zealand.
A couple of years ago we saw the Premier League end in dramatic fashion when Manchester City forward Sergio Aguero scored in stoppage time to give his team a victory and the championship in the process. At that moment, Manchester United had won its game and were two points ahead, and champions, had Aguero not scored. Last night was no different, for Graham Zusi and Aron Johannsson scored within a minute to end Panama's hopes.
Let's revisit how it went. It boiled down to this. For Mexico to go through with the automatic 3rd place spot, they had to both win this game by 2 goals and hope that Honduras lost by two goals. Within just a few minutes Honduras had already scored and were through to the World Cup. It was now up to Mexico to at least tie to reach 12 points such that even if Panama won, the Central Americans would have only reached 11 points.
At minute 18 of the Panama game, Gabriel Torres put the "Canaleros" ahead and Mexico started to panic. It got worse when Bryan Ruiz scored an exquisite goal on the 25th minute. Mexico was out at that point. Oribe Peralta, however, scored four minutes later to bring "El Tri" back.
As the second half began in all three simultaneously-played games, "El Tri" was still in playoff position even with Panama winning. Then came Real Salt Lake's Alvaro Saborio's goal and Mexico were once again looking at elimination. This was only brief, for Michael Orozco scored an equalizer for the US to give the Mexicans life.
But Panama wasn't done. At the 84th minute, Luis Tejada beat out the American defense and tapped the ball into the goal after Guzan had made a temporary save. Panama was in and Vucetich and the Mexican bench knew it.
Vucetich had decided not to field Giovani Dos Santos for Mexico and this looked to be very costly, as Chicharito failed to make an impact and the "Aztecas" played without passion. His insertion made little impact in the second half and the Mexicans looked deflated despite not knowing their ultimate fate.
As the game closed for Mexico, it was clear that Costa Rica was in no mood to lose or even tie this match. They wanted to defeat Mexico at home for the first time in over a decade. Mexico were out and many fans in the US and around Concacaf were salivating at the prospect, including many US fans that turned against their own team only to see their arch-rivals miss out on Brazil 2014.
But the reserve-laden side that Klinsmann put on the field at the drenched Estadio Romel had a lot to prove. These were not firs string players and were trying to make a statement to be in the final 23 for next year's tournament. It was this very fact that steered Brad Davis as he lofted a sublime center that found a wide open Graham Zusi. 2-2 and Panama was eliminated. The picture above shows the emotion as Terrence Boyd of the USA consoles Panama's Felipe Baloy.
The night was not over, however. Another American player, Aron Johannsson, notched his first goal for the US. Johannsson is regarded as the next best US forward and could make for a perfect partner with Altidore, depending on formation.
With the 3-2 win, Panama was out and Mexico were given a chance to qualify through a home-and-home matchup against New Zealand. Fate, it seems, prefers to flirt with irony. The most hated squad by Mexican fans saved their team. Mexico's Rafa Marquez had no comments to make about the USA game. Not even at this point does the animosity end. It's true, however, that his team has reached rock bottom.
Once heralded as a potential World Cup contender, Mexico now has to wait until November 20th to earn a space in the tournament. They played without passion or lack of purpose, without the spirit that made them so fearsome. Even ESPN Deportes's Futbol Picante show Mexican commentators agreed: Panama deserved to qualify and Mexico was given an unjust chance.