Mexico will play a home-and-away play-off series against Oceania qualifiers New Zealand next month - to decide who will go through to next year's FIFA World Cup.

Mexico can count themselves extraordinarily lucky to have made it to these play-off series and have the USA to thank for it.

In the final round of qualifiers for all CONCACAF teams, Mexico faced Costa Rica, while Panama was at home to a table-topping USA and Honduras faced winless Jamaica.

Mexico's slim hopes of automatically qualifying for the World Cup were dashed when Honduras drew 2-2 with the Reggae Boyz, meaning that they had to at least draw against Costa Rica to confirm their spot in the intercontinental play-off with the All Whites.

If they did lose, they would have had to hope that the USA, with nothing to play for following their qualification, could defeat a threatening Panama side.

With both games being played at exactly the same time, Panama took the lead in front of a 40,000 strong home crowd at Estadio Rommel Fernandez in Panama City with a goal to midfielder Gabriel Torres in the 18th minute, putting Panama in that all-important fourth position ahead of Mexico on goal-difference.

This lead was soon increased thanks to a Bryan Ruiz goal for Costa Rica on 26 minutes. This goal was cancelled out three minutes later with a goal coming from Mexican Oribe Peralta, putting Mexico back into pole position by one point. By half-time, the scorelines for both read Costa Rica 1-1 Mexico and Panama 1-0 USA.

Goals were scored in both matches in the 64th minute following half-time. In the Mexico - Costa Rica match-up, an Alvaro Saborio put the home team ahead again by 2-1. This should have bumped Panama back into fourth-place, but at the same time in the other qualifier, the USA scored to equalise through Michael Orozco, leveling the scoreline to 1-1, meaning Mexico still had the advantage by two points.

The scorelines stayed the same until the 83rd minute, just seven minutes from time, where substitute Luis Tejada put Panama ahead 2-1, both sending the crowd into raptures and putting Panama back into 4th-position.

With both games at 2-1 with just injury time remaining, Mexico's lifeline came. And what a time to strike.

Two minutes into injury time, Graham Zusi broke Panama's hearts in scoring the goal that drew the United States level, sending Panama packing from the World Cup qualifiers and booked Mexico's tickets to New Zealand.

Any hope of a late match-winner from Panama was further diminished a minute later, with a second late goal for the Americans, this time coming from Aron Johannsson, both sealing Panama and Mexico's fate, and securing an American win, a situation that seemed highly improbable just three minutes earlier.

Mexico will face New Zealand in the home-and-away legs firstly in Mexico on either 13/14 November, before travelling across the Pacific to play in New Zealand on November 20.


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Topics:
#World Cup
#Football
#Mexico Football