Frequent contributor Jon Marthaler has written about virtually every sport in the Twin Cities, and fills in on Saturdays for the RandBall blog on StarTribune.com. He'll cover the professional soccer scene in the Twin Cities, whether at the Metrodome or at the National Sports Center.
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HEADLINE | And as it came to the end, Mexico was out of the World Cup.
The Mexicans had lost 2-1 at Costa Rica on Tuesday night, and Luis Tejada had scored six minutes from time to give Panama a 2-1 lead over the USA, at home - a pair of results that would see Panama into fourth place in the final North America & Caribbean World Cup qualifying standings. Panama would thus advance to a playoff against New Zealand for a place in Brazil in 2014, while Mexico - mighty Mexico, the team that as of last year had an argument to be one of the top three teams in the world - was going to miss out on qualifying.
All the USA had to do was roll over in the final few minutes against Panama, and their greatest rivals - and their fans, who have consistently treated Americans like dirt - would be on the outside looking in next summer, while Panama had a chance to go to the finals for the first time ever.
By the end, the website of Mexican newspaper El Universal carried the banner "If not for the USA, El Tri would be out," and #YoureWelcomeMexico was trending on Twitter. It was one of the more thrilling conclusions to qualifying ever - for Mexico, if not for Panama.
The USA, Costa Rica, and Honduras qualify automatically for Brazil next year, with Mexico going into the playoff - even though they won just two of ten matches in the final qualifying round.
WORLD CUP QUALIFYING ELSEWHERE | Over in Europe, qualifying went down to the final day, as well. Bosnia-Herzegovina secured their first-ever berth in the finals with a 1-0 win against Lithuania, while England sealed their own spot with a 2-0 home win against Poland. Spain and Russia also sealed automatic qualification, while Iceland clinched a spot in the playoffs, keeping alive their chance to be the smallest country to ever qualify for the finals. France, Ukraine, Greece, Portugal, Romania, Sweden, and Croatia will also head to the playoffs for a shot at the final four European qualifying spots.
In South America, Uruguay beat Argentina 3-2 but still ended up fifth in the standings, thus condeming them to a playoff for an astonishing fifth consecutive time. They'll play off against Jordan, the fifth-place team in Asia. Despite the loss, the Argentines finished first, qualifying automatically along with Colombia, Chile, and Ecuador.
The only confederation yet to finish qualifying is Africa, which held the first leg of its five two-legged playoffs to determine the five African teams to qualify. Most notably for American fans, Egypt - coached by former USA coach Bob Bradley - lost 6-1 to Ghana, giving the Egyptians a rather insurmountable task to qualify. Reports surfaced that Bradley had been fired following the loss, but they were refuted by the coach himself.
Eleven spots of 32 remain - five for the African playoffs, four for the European playoffs, and for the winners of Mexico-New Zealand and Uruguay-Jordan. Soccer's greatest spectacle is thus almost set.
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