World Cup qualification in North America became a chaotic back-and-forth battle as Honduras, Panama and the United States continually pushed each other out of the automatic and playoff qualification spots.
There were unbelievable scenes, none more so than in Panama where a last-minute winner against Costa Rica put the Central Americans through to their first ever World Cup finals, with Honduras facing Australia in the playoff and the United States being knocked out.
Panama 2-1 Costa Rica
With the United States 2-0 down at the point of the deadlock being broken, a goal for Panama would have meant automatic promotion.
Unfortunately for the hosts, it instead came to Johan Venegas, who put visitors Costa Rica ahead – ensuring the United States maintained their position in the third automatic qualifying spot.
Gabriel Torres equalised for the hosts on 53 minutes, recovering their playoff position after being momentarily – for around 30 seconds or so – knocked out of it by a Honduras equaliser against Mexico.
There was some controversy surrounding Torres’ goal, however, with replays showing that the Panama player’s header didn’t appear to cross the line despite the goal being awarded.
Another goal on 60 minutes in the Honduras game caused a massive shakeup for Panama, who stood to be knocked out at that point, and they pushed forward for a winner accordingly, the atmosphere in their stadium electric.
On 88 minutes, in the final moments of the game, that moment came. Roman Torres found the back of the net with a fantastic finish, courtesy of the underside of the bar, and the stadium erupted with flares and jubilation.
As it stood, Panama were automatically through to their first ever World Cup finals, whilst Honduras – who were winning against Mexico – were to claim the playoff spot. The United States were going out.
Fans flooded onto the pitch at the full time whistle, as Panama achieved the absolutely unthinkable.
Trinidad & Tobago 2-1 United States
The United States had a terrible start against Trinidad & Tobago when Omar Gonzalez put through his own net on 17 minutes.
Nevertheless, the United States weren’t worried. They were still going through automatically at that stage, with Panama in the playoff, and likely never predicted the results that were to occur next.
Alvin Jones made matters more concerning for the United States with a long range drive on 37 minutes, but a Costa Rica goal against Panama at virtually the same time meant the USA were still on course to go through.
A goal from Dortmund’s Christian Pulisic on 47 minutes gave the United States some pride back in an embarrassing defeat, though with the scores still going their way in Honduras and Panama, it didn’t overly matter anyway.
It did matter, however, as the full time whistle blew. Remarkable results elsewhere had meant that the United States, who had started their game comfortably in the third automatic qualification spot even despite losing, were now knocked out of the World Cup.
Panama with their late, 88th minute winner were claiming the automatic place, whilst Honduras, who had too come back against Mexico and won, were to play Australia in the playoff.
What should have been an easy game for the United States had turned into an embarrassment, and ended with elimination and failure to reach the World Cup.
Honduras 3-2 Mexico
Oribe Peralta put already qualified Mexico ahead after 17 minutes, before Alberth Elis equalised for the home side on 34 minutes.
However, Carlos Vela’s goal on 39 minutes gave Mexico the lead once more, and ensured that Honduras were still going out.
An own goal by Mexico’s goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa on 54 minutes brought the scores level once more and momentarily propelled Honduras into a playoff spot once more – only for them to be knocked back out of it almost 30 seconds later when Panama also equalised in their match.
Romell Quioto then scored for Honduras on 60 minutes to completely shake things up in the North American qualifying.
Quioto’s goal meant that the United States – losing 2-1 to Trinidad & Tobago – were no longer in the automatic qualification places, but had to face Australia in a playoff, and that Panama were knocked out.
Following an absolutely unbelievable and extraordinary three matches in the North American qualification, it is Panama who have claimed the third automatic qualification spot and will go to their first ever World Cup finals in Russia 2018.
They join already qualified Mexico and Costa Rica who had both already booked their places in Russia 2018, despite final day defeats to Panama and Honduras.
Courtesy of that win over Mexico, Honduras will face Australia in the playoff, with the winner reaching the finals in Russia.
The United States have been eliminated from the World Cup after finishing in fifth place in the qualification group.