The U.S. came from behind in Panama with not one but two stoppage time goals to end the home side's dreams of reaching the World Cup in cruel fashion while also keeping Mexico's alive. Sometimes your biggest rival can be your best friend.
The cosmos aligned for an incredibly intense finish when Mexico fell behind 2-1 in the 64th minute to Costa Rica and Panama took a 2-1 lead over the U.S. at nearly the exact same time. With those scorelines, Panama were in position to overtake Mexico for fourth place in the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying table and fill the spot in a playoff against New Zealand that comes with it. Panama, who have never qualified for the World Cup, tried to contain their jubilation as they were faced with the task of defending against the U.S., who already sealed their place atop the group on Friday.
With Mexico unable to find a second goal as the 90th minute approached, Panama trip to Brazil seemed increasingly certain. Then, in the second minute of injury time, U.S. midfielder Graham Zusi equalized against Panama, stunning the home side with an emphatic header.
And before they could even begin to do the math in their heads, new U.S. striker Aron Johansson scored his first international goal a minute later. Shock turned to inconsolable grief for the 40,000 Panamanians at the Estadio Rommel Fernandez. Players collapsed on the pitch. Tears flooded the stadium. And when the final whistle blew, the U.S. won 3-2, bringing a magnificent end to their already impressive qualifying campaign.
Meanwhile, in Costa Rica, Mexico lost 2-1, but since Panama couldn't close the gap and push them down the table, Mexico will continue on to play New Zealand...thanks to the United States and Mexico's new national hero: Graham Zusi.
The rivalry between the U.S. and Mexico has been long been a loveless one. As the U.S. have grown more competitive, Mexico's treatment of visiting fans has included more and more bags of flying human waste. But after this incalculably important gift, there will be a few silent "thank yous" being said with each excrement sack thrown.
UPDATE: An hour after the matches ended, both "#YoureWelcomeMexico" and "Gracias Estados Unidos" (Thank you United States) were trending topics on Twitter. Everyone is is so polite!
- Sports & Recreation