Honduras qualified for the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil on Tuesday by clinching the last of the automatic qualifying spots in North and Central America and the Caribbean, while Mexico stayed in contention by claiming the playoff spot after Panama suffered a heartbreaking loss to the United States.
Needing only a point to qualify, Honduras made sure of their place
by drawing 2-2 with Jamaica in Kingston to join the U.S. and Costa Rica
as the three automatic qualifiers from the CONCACAF region after a
dramatic final round of matches.
Regional heavyweights Mexico were minutes away from missing out on
the fourth-placed playoff spot when they were beaten 2-1 in Costa Rica
and Panama held a 2-1 lead over the Americans.
But Panama, who needed to win to leapfrog Mexico in the six-nation
qualifying tournament, conceded two goals in stoppage time to lose 3-2,
prompting shock, disbelief and jubilation among Mexican fans.
"Play-off courtesy of the gringos," former Mexican President Felipe Calderon tweeted. "What happened?"
In parts of Mexico City, bands played in celebration and car drivers
honked their horns, while men sat outside in the street, drinking beers
and discussing the last ditch escape.
Shopkeeper Marcelo Rodriguez, 40, was downcast.
"We need committed players, and we don't have any," he said. "You can't rely on your old enemy to save you."
Mexico now face Oceania winners New Zealand in a two-leg playoff in
November in an effort to continue their long streak of World Cup
appearances while Honduras will make their third appearance at the
game's showpiece event.
Honduras made the perfect start against Jamaica when Carlo Costly
scored in the first minute but the home side, who failed to win a match
in the final round, drew level two minutes later through Je-Vaughn
Honduras regained the lead after 33 minutes to go into the break
with a 2-1 advantage when Maynor Figeuroa scored off a free kick but
Jamaica equalized in the second half when Rodolph Austin converted a
Honduras survived some anxious moments but their defense held firm
before the players celebrated booking their passage to Brazil.
The win also triggered celebrations in the Honduran capital,
Tegucigalpa, where thousands of people poured into the streets waving
national flags and soccer strips as fireworks lit up the night sky.
"All us Hondurans are happy, we've qualified for the World Cup. When
we unite, we win," President Porfirio Lobo told local radio, saying he
would declare Wednesday a holiday for government employees so they can
Mexico have qualified for every World Cup since 1982, with the
exception of 1990 when they were banned by FIFA after fielding over-age
players in a youth tournament, have the chance to qualify after an
extraordinary final week.
Last Friday, they needed a stunning goal from Raul Jimenez five
minutes from fulltime to beat Panama at home then on Tuesday needed the
help of the U.S. to keep ahead of Panama.
Mexico fell behind early against Costa Rica when striker Brian Ruiz scored for the home team in the 26th minute.
Although Mexico equalized three minutes later through Oribe Peralta,
whose shot hit the underside of the bar, Costa Rica went back in front
when Alvaro Saborio headed what proved to be the matchwinner in the 64th
Mexico's hopes of staying alive rested on the result of Panama's
match with an understrength American side, who had the luxury of resting
some of their regular starters after already finishing top of the group
Panama, who have never qualified for the World Cup, led 1-0 at the
break after Gabriel Torres found the back of the net in the 18th minute.
Michael Orozco brought the Americans back on level terms in the 64th
minute but Panama regained control when Luis Tejada scored seven
minutes before fulltime, tapping in a rebound.
The goal set off wild celebrations in the Rommel Fernandez Stadium
but the cheers turned to disbelief when a header from Graham Zusi then a
long range strike from Aron Johannsson in injury time ended their World