If you aren’t lucky or obsessive enough to have BeIN Sports or Galavision, you missed a unique bit of sports drama that only rolls around every four years or so. Tuesday night, the final games of Concacaf World Cup Qualifying occurred – all games starting at the same time to avoid any shenanigans. The USA qualified a month ago and were only playing for the shirt and microscopic hopes of being seed in Brazil next summer. Costa Rica – already qualified; but for Honduras, Panama, and Mexico, these matches were win or go home.
Honduras dispatched Jamaica without much trouble, leaving Mexico (playing at Costa Rica) and Panama (playing at home against the US) left to duke it out for the chance to play New Zealand in a home and home series for the final slot in the World Cup. Panama and Mexico were only a point apart in the standings, meaning all Mexico needed to do was tie or win. Panama, playing a US team made up almost entirely of younger, B-squad players, needed to win and hope El Tri lost.
The USA didn’t play all that well for most of the match, and Panama took the lead in the first half. Minutes later, the stadium erupted as news came across that Costa Rica had taken the lead over Mexico. Not long after, Mexico equalized, and the stadium was eerily quiet. The US played better in the second half and looked likely to score. Sure enough, Michael Orozco scored on a set piece and the Mexicans were celebrating. They were double safe with the U.S. tying Panama and themselves tied with Costa Rica. Ah, but Costa Rica scored again about 10 minutes later. Again, in Panama, you could feel the electricity, and sure enough Luis Tejada jumped on a loose ball in the box and slammed it home in the 83rd minute. Unbelievable scene. Panama was ahead again, 2-1, and through.My buddy and I, watching in his basement, kind of shrugged at each other. We both agreed that the USA was playing pretty mediocre and at least this would put Mexico out. Some would argue that it’s better for the region if a normally good team like Mexico qualifies, but some don’t understand the depth of the rivalry and how badly the Mexican team has behaved against the Red, White, and Blue for decades. We weren’t upset at all. We were starting to bask in our schadenfreude.
Then in stoppage time, the 91st minute, this happened.
That’s Graham Zusi from Brad Davis…
In Mexico (and the US) hearts lifted in relief and thanks. El Tri, still losing and looking listless in Costa Rica were saved. Over on Galavision, the announcers were watching both games on the split-screen. They erupted. And here is a translation of the call from Christian Martinoli:
That, my friends, is awesome on so many levels. Mexico have just been bad over the last year, and the really don’t deserve it. But say one thing for the USA: we do play for the shirt. We don’t know when we’re beaten. We do play to the end. While Martinoli was waxing poetic, a dejected Panamanian defense conceded some space to Arron Johannsson:
Ray Hudson and Phil Schoen on the call for BeIN sport.
And now, US Soccer has another one to hang on El Tri. If Mexico beats New Zealand in November (and they should), they have us to thank for their trip to Brazil. So, you’re welcome, neighbors.