THE DAY REPLAYED – Wins on the road in the CONCACAF Hexagonal are rare, making the opening day of the final round of qualifying for Russia 2018 all the more remarkable. Panama handed a defeat to their hosts Honduras and so did Costa Rica, beating Trinidad and Tobago handily in Port of Spain. And in the night’s heavyweight showdown, Mexico made history with a 2-1 win over their biggest rivals USA in hostile territory.
FIFA.com takes a closer look at all the action on a topsy-turvy first day of CONCACAF’s Hexagonal.
Match of the day
USA 1-2 Mexico
Miguel Layun (MEX) 20, Bobby Wood (USA) 49, Rafa Marquez (MEX) 88
In keeping with the traditions of a pure clasico, the clash between the region’s two top powers had it all. Both teams scored. Both teams lost influential leaders through injury, with Tim Howard going off for the USA and Andres Guardado limping out for the visitors. Despite hitting the woodwork twice, Mexico could only manage one goal in the first half through Miguel Layun, a bobbling shot from the edge of the box that somehow found the back of the US net. The speedy Bobby Wood levelled at the start of the second period with a similarly labored effort. But in the end, just as it looked like the intense and fiery contest was headed for a draw, Rafa Marquez, playing in his 134th game for El Tri, turned up like fine dust to force a 2-1 win. The result also banished the curse of Columbus, Ohio, where the Mexicans lost their last four games against USA in World Cup qualifying.
The first game of the night was a dream-come-true for Panama, who pulled off a 1-0 win in San Pedro Sula against Honduras. The game was decided by a sizzling free-kick midway through the first half from Fidel Escobar. Panama, in a desperate bid to reach their first World Cup, now sit at the top of the standings alongside Mexico and the Costa Ricans, who made their own fireworks away from home.
Costa Rica were the far better side in Port of Spain in their 2-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago. After a timid first-half, Tico veteran Celso Borges unlocked the Soca Warriors defence with a lovely ball up the right side that ended up at the feet of Cristian Bolanos, who only had to tap into a gaping goal. The home team, hunting a late equaliser, were caught cold again in stoppage time with USA-based Ronald Matarrita the scorer.
16 – the number of years since Honduras have beaten Panama in World Cup qualifying - away or at home. It may not be a curse, precisely, but the Canaleros certainly seem to raise their game when they meet the Catrachos. Friday night in San Pedro Sula was no exception as the Panamanians' wily tactics won the day deservedly.
Player of the day
Rafa Marquez (MEX)
Games between big rivals are often decided by old heads. Mexico’s historic win on the road against the States was no exception. When leader Andres Guardado went out with an injury mid-way through the first half, former Barcelona centre-back Marquez, 37, pressed up into the midfield to take over the reins and guide with a steady hand. He kept control, kept calm, and dictated the pattern of play. In the end, his old head was responsible for the winning goal too. He flicked home a corner-kick at the near post in the dying moments of the game, ending Mexico’s losing streak on US soil and handing the Stars and Stripes their first home defeat in 15 years in World Cup qualifying.
Did you know?
Honduras’ slim loss to Panama was a clash of Colombian tacticians. Medellin-born Hernan Dario Gomez (known simply as Bolillo) got the better of his countryman, San Gil native Jorge Luis Pinto. Bolillo’s game-plan was simple: stifle the home side with modest counter-attacks and organised defence. Pinto, for his part, wasn’t even on the bench for Honduras, the former Costa Rica coach serving the third of a four-match ban that will end after another home game against Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday.
What they said
“This goal and this win was the result of great effort. We came to USA to write a new chapter in our story. It gives us a lot of confidence and motivation to continue on this road and to believe we can get three points anywhere we play. I screamed with all my heart when I scored this goal,” Mexico captain Rafa Marquez on his historic goal against USA.
Results (Round Five, Matchday 1)
USA 1-2 Mexico
Honduras 0-1 Panama
Trinidad and Tobago 0-2 Costa Rica
Up next (Round Five Matchday 2)
Honduras-Trinidad & Tobago