As we explained yesterday, Panama faced heavy odds against them to at least secure a playoff spot against New Zealand. They needed to win at home against an already-qualified U.S. and hope that Mexico would lose in their visit to Costa Rica.
Both matches were being played simultaneously and at different times at appeared as if Mexico would hold on to the playoff position or that Panama would leapfrog them. Late into both matches it seemed like Panama would have the advantage as Mexico was losing while a Luis Tejada goal in the 83rd minute gave Los Canaleros a 2-1 lead.
Yet nearly ninety seconds into injury time in Graham Zusi’s equalizer transformed what had been a raucous celebration in the stands into a stunned silence that also caught the Panamanian TV commentators off-guard:
Less than a minute later, Aron Johannsson scored the game-winning goal for the U.S.
“There’s only one person at fault for this and it’s me,” said Panama coach Julio Dely Valdés after the game. “In two minute I let the match slip away. I have nothing more to say apart from apologizing to Panama,” added the disappointed former Panamanian international turned coach.
“It shows you how brutal football can be… Now obviously you feel for the people. You feel for an entire country,” observed U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
Though Mexico would go on to lose for the first time in Costa Rica since 1992, the Panamanian defeat allowed El Tri to secure the playoff spot against the Kiwis. Several Mexican newspaper headlines today read “God Bless America,” “We Love You!” and “Thanks…Uncle Sam” in recognition that Mexico needed help from their biggest rival in order to stay alive and get a chance to make it to the World Cup.
The relief felt by Mexicans (such as turning #GraciasUSA into a trending topic on Twitter) was also mixed with anger at their team’s weak play throughout the World Cup qualifying campaign. Perhaps TV Azteca commentator Christian Martinoli best expressed those feelings as Zusi scored his goal and several of the Mexican bench players including Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez lightly celebrated:
“We love you! We love you forever and ever! God Bless America! The USA puts us in the playoffs!
It is because of the USA that we are being placed in the playoff ... because of them, not due to you! Not any of you in the green shirts. It was them! Not you! They did it, not you!
Remember this forever. Keep this clearly in mind for the rest of your lives. You do nothing for the shirt, you do not put any effort for the team, you have not placed us in the World Cup, you would not have kept us alive…
So we can say that the US has surpassed us. They are better than Mexico in soccer. They even have the luxury of playing their subs and keeping us alive … I hope Vucetich [ed. Mexico’s coach] wears the pants and resigns. He has failed as a coach in the national team”.Mexico won’t be the only Latin American side whose fate will be decided in a playoff series. Uruguay’s win last night over Argentina assured them of playing Jordan in a home-and-away series next month for a World Cup berth.
Chile, Ecuador and Honduras obtained the results they needed on Tuesday and qualified to next year’s World Cup. They join Argentina, Colombia, the U.S., Costa Rica and host nation Brazil as representing the Americas at the tournament that starts on June 12th.
Video Source– YouTube via users U.S. Soccer and somoslasele
Online Sources – USA TODAY; teletica.com; Trendsmap; Major League Soccer; The Guardian