Down 2-1 to Costa Rica on the road in stoppage time, Mexico were two minutes away from failing to qualify for the 2014 World Cup.
But 530 miles to the south, in Panama, the United States — Mexico’s most bitter rivals — saved them them with two stoppage time goals in an incredible turn of events.
The U.S. was down 2-1 to Panama in the 90th minute. If that score held, Panama would have finished in fourth place in the region and advanced to a World Cup playoff against New Zealand, and Mexico would have been eliminated.
Instead American Graham Zusi scored to make it 2-2 in the 92nd minute, Aron Johansson scored to make it 3-2 in the 93rd minute, and Mexico finished in fourth place despite a 2-1 loss, leapfrogging Panama to stay alive in World Cup qualifying.
It was the most dramatic night in the history of CONCACAF — FIFA’s name for the North and Central American region that Mexico has dominated for decades. The two games kicked off at the same time, creating a breathless scenario with twin engines for emotional highs and lows.
Coming into the night, Mexico simply needed a win or a draw to avoid elimination. Only a loss combined with a Panama win over the U.S. would eliminate them completely… and that’s exactly what appeared to be happening until the very last minute.
Here’s how the night went down, minute by minute.
9:57 p.m. — After Panama scored a goal against the U.S. to make it 1-0 in the 18th minute, Costa Rica scores a 25th-minute goal to make it 1-0 against Mexico. At that point, Mexico would have been eliminated if the scores held.
9:59 p.m. — Mexico strikes right back. Oribe Peralta scores to make it 1-1 in the 29th minute. Now Mexico was safe if the scores held.
10:52 p.m. — Costa Rica scores in the 64th minute on an Alvaro Saborio header. Mexico goes down 2-1, and now they’re back to being eliminated if the scores held.
A few seconds later — Literally as Mexico was picking the ball out of its own net in Costa Rica, the U.S. ties it up 1-1 in the 64th minute with a Michael Orozco goal. Mexico seems safe — only a late goal from underdog Panama could eliminate them now.
11:12 p.m. — With the U.S. in control, Panama scores a shock goal in the 84th minute, taking a 2-1 lead. With five minutes to go, both Panama and Costa Rica led, and Mexico was looking at elimination.
11:20 p.m. — In the 92nd minute, the U.S. miraculously saves Mexico. Graham Zusi scores a goal, the USMNT goes up 2-1, and Mexico avoids a national embarrassment. A few seconds later they score a third goal and win 3-2. Mexico survives.
The games end: USA 3, Panama 2. Costa Rica 2, Mexico 1.
Mexico will now play a playoff against New Zealand to decide who goes to Brazil, and they have the U.S. to thank.
Here’s an amazing video a Mexican TV announcer going BONKERS and yelling, “We love you. We love you forever and ever. God bless America,” after the Zusi goal that saved Mexico:
The official U.S. team Twitter summed it up well:
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