Honduras qualified for the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil on Tuesday by clinching the last of the automatic qualifying spots in North and Central America and the Caribbean, while Mexico stayed in contention by claiming the play-off spot after Panama suffered a heartbreaking loss to the USA.
Needing only a point to qualify, Honduras made sure of their place by drawing 2-2 with Jamaica in Kingston, to join USA and Costa Rica as the three automatic qualifiers from the CONCACAF region after a dramatic final round of matches. Regional heavyweights Mexico were minutes away from missing out on the fourth-placed play-off spot when they were beaten 2-1 in Costa Rica and Panama held a 2-1 lead over the Americans.
But Panama, who needed to win to leapfrog Mexico in the six-nation qualifying tournament, conceded two goals in stoppage time to lose 3-2, prompting shock, disbelief and jubilation among Mexican fans.
Mexico now face Oceania winners New Zealand in a two-leg play-off in November in an effort to continue their long streak of World Cup appearances.
Honduras made the perfect start against Jamaica when Carlo Costly scored in the first minute, but the home side drew level two minutes later through an own goal by former Hibernian midfielder Jorge Claros.
Honduras, who had Celtic full-back Emilio Izaguirre in their line-up, regained the lead after 33 minutes when Maynor Figeuroa scored from a free kick, but Jamaica equalised in the second half when Rodolph Austin converted a penalty. Honduras survived some anxious moments but their defence held firm before the players celebrated booking their passage to Brazil, their country’s third appearance at the game’s showpiece event.
Mexico, who have qualified for every World Cup since 1982, with the exception of 1990 when they were banned by Fifa after fielding over-age players in a youth tournament, still have the chance to qualify after an extraordinary final week.
Last Friday, they needed a stunning goal by Raul Jimenez five minutes from full-time to beat Panama at home. On Tuesday, they needed the help of arch-rivals the USA to stay ahead of Panama.
Panama, who have never qualified for the World Cup, led 1-0 at the break after Gabriel Torres scored in the 18th minute.
Michael Orozco brought the Americans level in the 64th minute but Panama regained control when Luis Tejada scored seven minutes before full-time.
The goal set off wild celebrations in the Rommel Fernandez Stadium, but the cheers turned to disbelief when a header by Graham Zusi, then a long-range strike by Aron Johannsson in injury time, ended their World Cup hopes.