The 16-month qualifying marathon in the North, Central America and Caribbean zone drew to a close on Wednesday with a decided bang. Seconds away from victory in the USA, and the region's third and final direct qualifying berth at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, Costa Rica were stunned by a last-gasp equaliser. They now find themselves in the unenviable position of having to play-off with South American powers Uruguay. Costa Rica's heartache was Honduras' joy, though, as their slim 1-0 win in El Salvador combined with their neighbours' late collapse in Washington DC sent the Catrachos through to only their second world finals.
The big match
USA 2-2 Costa Rica
Goals: Brian Ruiz (CRC 21' & 24'), Michael Bradley (USA 72'), Jonathan Bornstein (USA 95'+)
The USA, having booked passage to South Africa at the weekend, were eager to finish off their campaign in style in Washington DC against Costa Rica, who had not won a match on US soil since 1985. Things did not go to plan for the Americans, however, as they found themselves two goals down inside 30 minutes, Brian Ruiz grabbing both in an inspired display. A win for the Costa Ricans would have meant that, no matter what Honduras did in their match being played simultaneously in San Salvador, they were through to South Africa in third place. But an almighty collapse turned Tico joy to anguish as Michael Bradley poached an opportunistic goal for the Americans with a little over a quarter-hour to go. Then, after the USA lost Oguchi Onyewu to a serious knee injury and Costa Rica boss Rene Simoes was escorted from the touchline, Jonathan Bornstein nodded only his third goal for the Americans from a Landon Donovan corner kick. As the USA celebrated their first-place finish, one they dedicated to young striker Charlie Davies who was seriously injured in a fatal Tuesday-morning car crash, the Ticos slumped off the pitch, many in tears.
In other action
Honduras managed to win a physical contest against El Salvador in San Salvador. The hero of the night was Carlos Pavon, the country's iconic all-time leading scorer. After a miserable night on Saturday, in which his profligacy in front of goal in a 3-2 loss to the States bordered on the comical, the wily, old veteran picked himself up, dusted himself off and laid claim to the crucial lone goal on Wednesday. The striker's emotional celebrations spoke directly to his profound relief and the realisation of a life-long dream of playing in a world finals.
Over in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago finished off a campaign to forget with a manful performance. Kerry Baptiste scored twice for the islanders, but an El Tri surge in the second half saw Enrique Alejandro Esqueda and Carlos Salcido have their say to force a 2-2 draw. The result, meaning little for the Soca Warriors, sees Mexico finish in second place behind their archrivals the United States.
Player of the day - Carlos Pavon (HON)
Honduras' all-time top scorer cut a forlorn figure after the weekend's 3-2 home loss to the USA, in which he missed a late penalty and a stone-cold sitter six yards from goal. But, as Michel Platini once famously said, "football is a game of tomorrows," and the 36-year-old goal-getter made amends on Wednesday. Playing in the hostile environs of the Estadio Cuscatlan - where the Salvadorans are formidable - Pavon scored the vital goal in a 1-0 win, rising highest at the back post in the 64th minute to guide his country to only their second appearance at a FIFA World Cup.
What they said
"It's a good thing we respond and compete as a team. It was a strong effort we put in tonight. It's not how you draw it up before the game but it showed the maturity we have, the spirit of our team and we're very proud of that and of winning the group," USA coach Bob Bradley.
27 - The number of years since Honduras made their debut, and lone appearance, at a FIFA World Cup finals. Back in Spain in 1982 they managed to draw two of their group games, one a 1-1 result against the hosts, but still went out at the first hurdle.