COMMENTARY | "Goal! Goal! GOOOOAAAALLLLLLL!!! GOAL ESTADOS UNIDOS! We love you! We love you forever and ever! God bless America!"
It's a clip that will be replayed over and over again south of the border and one that will live on for years to come thanks to the wonder that is the Internet . Mexico, the envy of much of the footballing world back in the summer of 2012, was given second life in World Cup Qualifying on Tuesday evening thanks to the United States. A scenario that literally nobody on the planet could have envisioned 18 months ago is reality, and Mexico will now face off with New Zealand for a spot in the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Putting last night's events in perspective for the casual fan who barely follows US Soccer outside of World Cup years isn't easy. Imagine a scenario in which the New York Yankees had the division won, and all they had to do was lose the final game of the season in order to prevent the Boston Red Sox from earning a postseason berth. That's kinda/sorta what the United States Men's National Team was facing at Panama on Tuesday.
The US had already won their World Cup Qualifying group. Their match versus Panama was merely a walkabout for the Americans. Next summer's tournament is eight months away, so anybody suggesting that the contest was an opportunity for any player to earn a World Cup roster spot was either overstating the issue or trying to get viewers to watch a sporting event that didn't really matter from the US point of view.
You play to win the game, taught one American football head coach in a famous press conference, and that is exactly what the USMNT did. Trailing by a single goal in stoppage time, new Mexico hero Graham Zusi took advantage of some shambolic defending and headed the ball into the back of the net to tie the match. Aron Johannsson buried what would have been a highlight reel finish on any other night roughly one minute later to clinch the result for the US.
None of this, of course, would have mattered if Mexico had gotten the job done at Costa Rica. A draw would have been good enough for El Tri, but an Alvaro Saborio goal scored in the 64th minute put the hosts up for good. Mexico's nightmare 2013 had become a complete disaster, but help ultimately arrived in the form of a Sporting Kansas City star. Manchester United striker Chicharito credited God for Mexico not being eliminated from the World Cup before the tournament even began.
He and his country have a new deity in Estados Unidos.
Somewhat lost in the headlines is the fact that Panama lost more than a game. They were but minutes away from clinching a playoff for a World Cup berth when the world around them crumbled into pieces. That nation deserved better from a team that, for whatever reason(s), just didn't play until the final whistle.
And what of the US vs. Mexico rivalry? You can be sure that the two countries will again hate each other as soon as they meet on the pitch. For at least a couple of days, though, anybody wearing a US shirt should get at least a free shot of tequila at his local cantina.
I'm a massive sports fan. I watch everything from the NFL to basketball to hockey to Aussie Rules. Nothing in life elicits the emotions that are stirred by international football. I experienced it first hand when Holland lost the World Cup final to Spain in heartbreaking fashion back in 2010, and I witnessed it in a variety of fashions on Tuesday.
ESPN guru Roger Bennett said it best: "Before you go to bed tonight, look in the mirror and say: I Love Football." It really is a funny old game sometimes.
Zac has been covering the USMNT, Holland, Tottenham Hotspur, New York Red Bulls, Major League Soccer and other soccer leagues for Yahoo Sports since 2010.
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