By DAN KARELL
With five minutes left in regulation time, Mexico looked as though they were headed for their sixth draw in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, and an outcome that would make qualification for the World Cup very slim.
One minute later, substitute forward Raul Jimenez unleashed a moment of brilliance with a spectacular bicycle kick goal that gave Mexico a 2-1 victory over Panama, keeping El Tri’s qualification hopes alive. The win was the first in 2013 at Estadio Azteca, after a number of draws and a loss last month to Honduras. Also in CONCACAF action on Friday evening, Honduras stunned Costa Rica with a 1-0 victory at Estadio Olimpico in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.
Debuting a new head coach, a new uniform, and some new and old familiar faces in the starting lineup, Mexico looked much like the team that has struggled all year old, the same team that saw Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre lose his job. Despite creating numerous chances, everyone from Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez to Cristian Gimenez were sending shots high or wide of goal.
That all changed in the 40th minute, as Hernandez found forward partner Oribe Peralta in space on the side of the box, and in a fluid movement, Peralta took down the chip pass and fired home a cathartic goal that gave El Tri life heading into the second half.
With both Mexico and Panama tied on points coming into the game, the Canaleros needed the win just as much as Mexico did, making the second half an open affair. Panama pushed forward on many occasions but were clearly miffed after having a penalty kick call waved off, only to get called for one just seconds later.
Hernandez stepped up to the spot in the 58th minute, but sent a poor penalty kick down the middle that Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo saved with ease, keeping Panama alive. In the 81st minute, Panama were able to take advantage of some lax defending to shock Mexico and score the game-tying goal via Luis Tejada.
However, Jimenez came on one minute later and within four minutes, he became the next Mexico legend with another Azteca moment, the perfectly executed bicycle kick. Even with the victory, Mexico could still fail to qualify for the World Cup if they lose to Costa Rica and Panama defeat the USA on Tuesday, though it’s looking more likely that Mexico will finish in fourth place and play in the playoff round against New Zealand.
In a surprise result, Honduras showed that they can beat anyone in CONCACAF at home with a crucial 1-0 victory over Costa Rica.
Catrachos head coach Luis Fernando Suarez produced another magic decision again when he decided to start Jerry Bengtson, who gets no playing time in MLS but seemingly can’t stop scoring in CONCACAF international matches. Bengtson timed a run into the box perfectly in the 65th minute, taking a pass from Roger Espinoza and slotting the ball in the corner for a goal.
The duo of Bryan Ruiz and Alvaro Sabario didn’t click for the Ticos in San Pedro Sula, and both were replaced in the second half in favor of fresher legs. Joel Campbell came on in the 61st minute and Victor Nuñez in the 70th but they couldn’t break through the compact Honduras defense that held on to the one-goal lead.
With the victory, Honduras is all but assured a place in Brazil next summer, needing just a point at Jamaica on Tuesday to confirm it.
What did you think of these games? Which outcome was bigger for their respective nation? Did you feel like Mexico was headed for a draw before Jimenez’s wonder-goal? Impressed with Bengtson’s goal?
Share your thoughts below.