What happens when you schedule three simultaneous Hexagonal matches with the World Cup fates of three countries hanging in the balance? A lot, as it turns out. Jon Arnold explains it all for you.
SEVERAL WEEKS AGO CONCACAF
October 17, 2013
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announced its decision to start all three matches on the final day of the Hex at the same instant. Inexplicably, some parties complained about the decision. Never mind that the synchronized starts decreased the likelihood of match manipulation and increased the potential for drama.
Suffice it to say that nobody manipulated anything and the drama was off the charts. Tuesday was the most exciting night in CONCACAF in a long, long time.
The third-place spot in the Hexagonal (and automatic qualification to the 2014 World Cup) and the fourth (which requires a two-legged playoff against New Zealand) were up for grabs Tuesday. The United States and Costa Rica had already qualified, finishing first and second respectively. Honduras needed just a single point to clinch third place. Mexico needed a point more than Panama to make the playoff.
Every goal counted on Tuesday, and here's how, and when, they were scored:
– Carlo Costly tucks home a corner and helps Honduras put a foot into the World Cup with an early goal in Kingston, Jamaica.
– Jorge Claros puts an own goal into the back of the Honduras net, tying the match but his team is still in third place as things stood.
– Colorado Rapids forward Gaby Torres finds a gap in the U.S. back line and puts a shot past Brad Guzan to lift Panama ahead of the United States. La Marea Roja moves ahead in the contest but still not into playoff position.
25' - Bryan Ruiz scores an excellent goal for Costa Rica, putting the Ticos ahead of Mexico. If results held, Panama and Mexico are tied on points (11) and goal difference (-2), but Mexico would be out of the playoff based on total goals scored, the third tiebreaker.
- Oribe Peralta gives El Tri life, sending in a goal off the crossbar, which puts Mexico ahead of Panama on points—if things stay as they are. (They don’t.)
- Maynor Figueroa sneaks a free kick through the wall for Honduras, putting his team ahead of Jamaica, 2-1, and edging his country closer to Brazil.
– Don’t start celebrating just yet, Honduras. Jamaican Rodolph Austin, who plays his club soccer for Leeds United, scores from the spot to put the Reggae Boyz level with Honduras.
– Second-half substitute Álvaro Saborio knocks home a Cristian Gamboa cross that gives Costa Rica a 2-1 lead and could spell doom for El Tri.
64' – Seconds later, any hard feelings for Michael Orozco, the Mexican-American who scored against Mexico to give the U.S. its first victory in the Azteca, dissipate as he equalizes for the Stars and Stripes, letting Mexico exhale.
– Mexico sharply inhales again when Luis Tejada, a forward who plays for Veracruz in the Liga MX, gives the Caneleros a 2-1 lead in Panama City. Mexico again appears to be on the outside looking in due to the third tiebreaker. As all three matches head into stoppage time, the United States is in first, Costa Rica is in second, Honduras is hanging onto third, and Panama is ahead of Mexico for the fourth and final spot.
– Graham Zusi rises above his marker and heads a Brad Davis cross into the back of the net, putting Panama back at 8 points for the tournament and all but eliminating the hosts from advancing.
Aron Johannsson bags his first international goal and makes sure there's no comeback for Panama. The whistle blows shortly after in San Jose. Mexico loses 2-1 but advances to the playoff with New Zealand. U.S. players console their Panamanian counterparts who now must wait until 2018—at the earliest—to make the country's first appearance in the World Cup Finals.
So yeah—it was quite a night in the CONCACAF region.
Soccer in Panama is on the rise, and it would be a shame to see Julio Dely Valdes let go because of two near misses. Getting his team to the 2013 Gold Cup final and narrowly missing World Cup qualification is a good achievement from a young manager with a bright future.
While some Panama mainstays—including Blas Perez, Jaime Penedo, Felipe Baloy, and Luis Henriquez—have likely missed their final chance at World Cup glory, there's a promising collection of young players rising through the ranks.
Roberto Chen, the Malaga player who set up Panama's second goal Tuesday night, is only 19-years-old and one of the brightest prospects in CONCACAF. Gaby Torres and Rolando Blackburn should soon be able to fill the voids that will be left by Perez and Luis Tejada. There are three-to-four young options in defense and midfield. If Penedo's understudy, Luis Mejia, is half the keeper the Los Angeles Galaxy backstop is, Panama should be formidable in the next qualification cycle.
In addition to its current roster, Panamanian youth football is improving too. Jorge Dely Valdes, Julio's twin brother, left for the United Arab Emirates after the qualifier to join the U-17 team at the U-17 World Cup. Two years ago Panama made the Round of 16 in the same tournament.
The Dely Valdes brothers have done plenty for the Central American nation. Now, despite this bitter loss, Panama's federation should recognize that and keep them on for the push toward the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
New Zealand update
Mexico now will take on New Zealand, which has been kicking around in CONCACAF during this international break. The All Whites’ results won't strike much fear in El Tri. The club drew 0-0 with a poor Chivas USA side this weekend.
The Oceania representatives traveled to the Caribbean for a Tuesday friendly against Trinidad and Tobago. The Soca Warriors were missing several regulars: Stephen Hart elected to leave out players who hadn't recently shown commitment to the national team. This included Joevin Jones and Daneil Cyrus, the talented W Connection players who recently returned to their club teams after being suspended for taking part in minor league matches behind the club's back. Keon Daniel of the Philadelphia Union also didn't make Hart's team.
It might not have mattered. Reports indicate New Zealand bunkered in, much to Hart's dismay. "Hart stood at the edge of his technical area for almost the entire match where he waved, pouted, and shouted at his players with the expression of a man who was desperate for his turn in the restroom," wrote Trinidadian journalist Lasana Liburd.
Like the friendly with Chivas USA, the match ended in a scoreless draw.
Coach Rick Herbert apparently took in Mexico's 2-1 win against Panama at the Azteca and has had plenty of time to scout. While preparation is always important, even an out-of-form Mexico should be able to top the All Whites.
If ever there was a time for Canada to get a morale-boosting victory, Tuesday might've been it. Playing against Australia one day before the one-year anniversary of the 8-1 shellacking in Honduras that eliminated the Canadians from the Hex, the team needed some good news. It was facing an Australia team that, while already qualified for the World Cup, fired its manager after consecutive 6-0 defeats.
Despite the Aussie's lack of motivation and likely state of disarray, Australia jumped out to a 1-0 lead after just 30 seconds and added two more in a 3-0 win at Craven Cottage in London. That makes the Canucks' current winless streak a dozen.
It's not a wonderful time to be a Canadian soccer fan.
Jerry Bengtson really doesn't want to stay with the New England Revolution next season.
But he'll probably be happy to play in Miami when Honduras plays Brazil in a November 15 friendly.
Video of the Week
You’ve probably already seen this; it was in today's morning read. Still, how can we not select Christian Martinoli's ode to the American team defeating Panama while simultaneously shaming the Mexican team's ineffectiveness?
Jon Arnold is an ASN contributing editor. Follow him on Twitter.