It was irony at its finest. In stoppage time, the U.S. men's national team scored twice to knock Panama out of the running for the 2014 World Cup and, consequently, keep Mexico's once-hopeless Brazil bid alive.
Having just lost 2-1 against Costa Rica, Mexico needed the USA to at least tie Panama in the Hexagonal finale Tuesday night. The Americans did just that, and more, securing the draw two minutes into stoppage time before scoring again just one minute later to win, 3-2, in Panama City.
After an unbelievable night, ESPN Stats & Info summed up how the World Cup slate looks:
A look at every country to qualify for the World Cup so far pic.twitter.com/UWEkjZJXvL— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 16, 2013
Despite staying alive, Mexico still need to emerge victorious from a two-leg playoff against New Zealand next month. The implications are huge for the home-and-home against the Kiwis:
If Mexico fails to qualify for World Cup, it will be 1st time it failed to qualify since 1982— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 16, 2013
The U.S. Soccer Twitter account poked fun at the crazy outcome with a light jab:
Mexico spared through no real effort of their own. Now a chance to snag some frequent flier miles before the holidays with a trip to NZL!— U.S. Soccer (@ussoccer) October 16, 2013
Mexico controlled their own destiny heading into Tuesday, leading Panama by three points for fourth place in CONCACAF qualifying. But when Costa Rica jumped on top of Mexico, 2-1, in the 64th minute at Estadio Nacional in San Jose, their hopes started quickly deteriorating.
Panama and the U.S. were locked in a 1-1 stalemate at the time, meaning Mexico was still technically alive. However, Panama struck a dagger into the heart of El Tri in the 84th minute by going ahead, 2-1, at Estadio Rommel Fernández.
Mexico made no real push in the final few minutes of their match, unable to channel the type of late heroics they used to pull out a 2-1 victory over the Panamanians on Friday to extend their World Cup dreams. It all came down to the USA bailing out their neighbors to the south.
Two minutes into stoppage time, the Yanks' Graham Zusi netted the all-important equalizer to keep El Tri's hopes alive. A match-winner one minute later from Aron Johannsson sealed Panama's fate.
If Mexico get past New Zealand and punch their ticket to Brazil, they'll owe their neighbors a heck of a thank-you gift.
MLSSoccer.com details what's next: "The first leg of the Mexico-New Zealand playoff is scheduled for Nov. 13 or 14 at Estadio Azteca, with the second leg in Wellington on Nov. 20. The winner of the two-game aggregate-goals series gets a spot in next summer's World Cup."