Panama had its dreams of making a first ever World Cup crushed in the most extraordinary circumstances. With Mexico losing in Costa Rica, Panama looked set to claim a playoff spot when it scored to go 2-1 ahead of the United States with just seven minutes remaining. But the U.S. incredibly scored twice in injury time to see Mexico claim fourth place in the Hexagonal and a playoff with New Zealand at Panama’s expense.
It is hard to imagine a more painful way for Panama to have missed out. When Luis Tejada scored late on the incredible scenes in the Estadio Rommel Fernandez in Panama City reflected a belief that Panama were on their way to a playoff where they would be significant favorites to make it to Brazil. What followed will surely take a long time for all involved to get over.
Ironically, the U.S. did their fiercest rival, Mexico, the biggest of favors. But coach Jurgen Klinsmann will be more concerned by the fact that his much-changed lineup was able to battle to get a win against a side that, in contrast to itself, had everything to play for.
After falling to defeat against Mexico on Friday, Panama needed a win to have any chance of securing a playoff berth. And Julio Dely Valdes’ side got off to a fine start. With 18 minutes on the clock, Gabriel Torres struck a first-time effort from the edge of the box past Brad Guzan, who was earning a rare start in place o of Tim Howard.
But the visitors got back on level terms 64 minutes in. A corner from the right caused confusion in the Panama box and defender Michael Orozco was able to get his head to the ball six yards out and send it past goalkeeper Jaime Penedo.
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With the knowledge that Mexico was losing in Costa Rica, Panama knew they just needed a goal. And as the clock ticked onto the 83rd minute, they found it. Guzan could only parry a cross from the right straight to the feet of substitute striker Tejada, who pounced, to the jubilation of almost all in the stadium.
Instead the celebrations were cut short with the most painful of twists. First, in the second minute of injury time, Graham Zusi ran in to meet Brad Davis’s cross from the left with a powerful header into the net. And then, with Panama desperately pouring forward in search of another go-ahead goal, Aron Johannson got his first goal for the U.S. with a powerful low strike into the corner from 20 yards out.