The penultimate round of the CONCACAF qualifying Hexagonal was packed full of high drama and tension. Nervy Mexico were on the verge of virtual elimination, but for a late bicycle-kick goal from Raul Jimenez to see off brave Panama. The result keeps El Tri alive, and on the inside track to fourth-place (a spot in the play-off against New Zealand) and forces third-place Honduras to wait. In the most straight-forward fixture of Friday’s three, USA secured first-place in the Hexagonal with a simple win over Jamaica who, at long last, are officially out of the running. FIFA.com wraps up a breathless night of football in the New World.
The big game
Mexico 2-1 Panama
El Tri finally won a Hexagonal contest at their Estadio Azteca, but they had to do it the hard way. Oribe Peralta opened the scoring early for Mexico, who are playing under their third coach of the campaign and suffering through a crisis of confidence. And when Javier Chicharito Hernandez had his penalty saved by Jaime Penedo mid-way through the second half, the crowd went silent. Panamanian substitute Luis Tejada then drew level with just nine minutes to go. If the game had finished at 1-1, Honduras would have gone through to Brazil 2014 in the third and final direct qualifying spot with a game still to be played. But, with a flair for the dramatic, young striker Jimenez had other ideas. His sizzling overhead kick spun in off the post with five minutes left to keep Mexico’s hopes of reaching Brazil 2014 alive.
In other action
Honduras beat qualified neighbours Costa Rica 1-0 in their earlier game in San Pedro Sula. Los Ticos arrived with a strong side and managed to hold their hosts at bay for the first 45 minutes. But the Hondurans sprang to life in the second half, led by the tireless running and clever cunning of wide man Oscar Boniek Garcia. Jerry Bengtson, the team’s top-scorer in qualifying, got the only goal of the contest with a wily finish in the 66th minute. Honduras are now assured of at least fourth place in the Hexagonal with a game to go, enough for a play-off spot against New Zealand.
USA put poor Jamaica out of their misery, a 2-0 win for the Stars and Stripes in Kansas City knocking the Reggae Boyz out of contention for next year’s finals. Klinsmann made a raft of changes to his team, and it took the new-look Americans a while to get going, before substitute Graham Zusi – who plays for the local MLS side – took advantage of some sloppy defending to score after 77 minutes. Three minutes later, Jozy Altidore grabbed his fourth goal of the Hexagonal. The result sees the US finish the final round with a perfect record on home soil, where they haven’t surrendered a single goal, and proudly seal top spot.
Player of the day – Oribe Peralta (Mexico)
Despite heavy pressure on the Mexican side to rescue their campaign and get a first Hexagonal win at Azteca, Santos Laguna man Peralta stood strong. Lively throughout the eventful win over Panama, the withdrawn striker linked up with Chicharito Hernandez to great effect and was a lively attacking spark for the full 90 minutes. On the rare occasion that he gave the ball away, he worked his socks off to get it back. His eighth goal in a Mexico jersey, and his selfless labour, contributed directly to El Tri’s triumph.
Goal of the day – Raul Jimenez (Mexico)
A moment of pure inspiration was needed to turn the tide at Azteca. It came late from 22-year-old Jimenez, and it was a goal of the highest technical standard. Outside the penalty area with his back to goal, the Club America man flicked the ball up over his head, unleashing a most sumptuous overhead volley that flew in off the post. The roar from the crowd was deafening, and the goal will rank among the finest the famous old ground has ever seen.
15 – The number of Brazil 2014 qualifying games Oscar Boniek Garcia has started for Honduras. No other Catracho, not even veteran keeper Noel Valladares, can make such claim. The jet-heeled, hard-working Houston Dynamo man has been a lynchpin for his side. He played in an 8-0 demolition of Canada in the previous round and was influential in historic wins over USA and Mexico in a campaign spanning well over a year.
What they said
“It’s been a tremendous 2013 with this group of players. The chemistry is building in the team. We’re ready to move forward and focus on next summer. We have a lot of work ahead because the World Cup is a whole different story from the Hexagonal, but we have confidence that we can do well.” USA coach Klinsmann begins to turn his attention away from a wildly successful Hexagonal and toward next summer’s global showpiece.
1. USA (19 points - Qualified)
2. Costa Rica (15 - Qualified)
3. Honduras (14)
4. Mexico (11)
5. Panama (8)
6 Jamaica (4 - Eliminated)
CONCACAF final round Hexagonal, matchday 9
Honduras 1-0 Costa Rica
USA 2-0 Jamaica
Mexico 2-1 Panama
Up next (final matchday)