US ends Panama's run with stoppage-time goals
Panama was about 90 seconds from beating the United States and advancing to a playoff against New Zealand for a World Cup berth.
The fans at Estadio Rommel Fernandez in Panama City were ready to start a nationwide celebration.
And then the Americans stunned not just an opponent, but an entire country.
Graham Zusi and Aron Johannsson scored in second-half stoppage time as the United States rallied for a 3-2 win that left Mexico's World Cup hopes alive and knocked out the Panamanians.
''It shows you how brutal football can be. For one side that's almost there, and then the other side is back in,'' U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. ''Now obviously you feel for the people. You feel for an entire country.''
The United States, which clinched a World Cup berth last month, didn't use most of its regular starters, and Gabriel Torres put Panama ahead in the 18th minute in a downpour. Michael Orozco equalized in the 64th, not long after Costa Rica took a 2-1 lead at home against Mexico in the other qualifier.
Luis Tejada scored in the 83rd, putting Panama back into fourth place and the playoff berth. Mexico, which last missed the World Cup in 1990, would have been eliminated.
But Zusi scored 1:24 into stoppage time, and Johannsson scored his first international goal with seconds remaining to seal the U.S. win and Panama's elimination.
''This is just how football writes these crazy, emotional stories, and you're in the middle of it, because we all felt all of a sudden when Graham scored that header that it was all quiet, silence, and you feel for them,'' Klinsmann said. ''It was a very sad moment for all here in Panama. We understand that.''
It was a similar finish to four years ago, when Jonathan Bornstein's goal in the fifth minute of stoppage time at Washington gave the U.S. a 2-2 draw against Costa Rica - that result gave Honduras a World Cup berth and eliminated the Costa Ricans.
The U.S. and Costa Rica already had clinched their World Cup spots last month, and Honduras earned CONCACAF's last automatic spot with a 2-2 draw at last-place Jamaica.
Mexico finished fourth with 11 points, three ahead of Panama, which has never reached football's marquee tournament.
Before allowing the stoppage-time goals, Panama was level in realtime with Mexico on points and goal difference and would earned the playoff berth based on a 10-7 advantage in goals scored.
''Nobody,'' Klinsmann said, ''expected what happened in the last two minutes.''