Russia 2018: Panama reach first #WorldCup; President Declares Public Holiday

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Dramatic finale in CONCACAF’s Hexagonal qualifying
Panama celebrate maiden World Cup qualification with last-gasp win
Honduras edge into play-off as USA suffer shock exit

CONCACAF qualifying for the FIFA World Cup™ has a history of going down to the wire, and so it proved once again in the campaign for Russia 2018. The outcome was not decided until the very final minute of the Hexagonal as three concurrent kicks-off merely added to the tension of a matchday where the World Cup fortunes of three nations oscillated back and forth.

When the dust settled, it was Panama who were left triumphant and preparing for a maiden trip to world football’s greatest stage. Honduras will fight another day after earning a play-off spot against AFC qualifiers Australia, while USA suffered a shock elimination and will miss their first World Cup for 32 years.

The matches
Trinidad and Tobago 2-1 USA
Following an impressive 4-0 win over Panama on Friday, USA entered the final round with one hand on qualification thanks to a two-point buffer over fourth-placed Panama. Thanks to a handy goal difference, even a lone point against struggling Trinidad and Tobago was likely to be enough. Football, however, is not always predictable. USA made a horror start with Omar Gonzalez steering the ball into his own net, and their pain was compounded before half-time as Alvin Jones doubled T&T’s advantage. The Stars and Stripes pulled one back through teenage star Christian Pulisic immediately after the break, and an equaliser seemed likely. Clint Dempsey hit the post in the latter stages, but that crucial second goal somehow failed to materialise.

Panama 2-1 Costa Rica
Panama went into the match with hope and came out on the other side as history-makers. An upbeat Costa Rica – who qualified for Russia 2018 last Saturday – took the lead through Johan Venegas in the final stages of the first half. Panama knew they had to at least equalise if they were to keep their World Cup ambitions alive and they drew level through Gabriel Torres early in the second half. However, with Honduras holding a shock lead over Mexico, Los Canaleros were heading for the exit door. That was until two minutes from full time, when Roman Torres sent the home crowd into ecstasy with a much-celebrated winner. Panama’s president @JC_Varela declares Wednesday a national holiday after Canaleros reach first-ever #WorldCup.

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Honduras 3-2 Mexico
Trailing in fifth, albeit on goal difference, and facing continental heavyweights Mexico, Honduras knew they needed something special if they were to keep alive dreams of an unprecedented third successive World Cup appearance. Sure enough, something special did indeed happen in San Pedro Sula. Honduras somehow came from behind on two occasions, before Romell Quioto scored the decisive goal of the contest on the hour-mark. It would have been to no avail had USA found an equaliser against T&T, but it is Los Catrachos who now face the challenge of an intercontinental play-off.

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The player
In the decades to come, the name Roman Torres will be associated with Panama’s most memorable footballing moment. The hefty centre-back cuts an unlikely figure as a goalscoring hero, but that is just what he is after his 88th-minute volley sent Panama to the World Cup. It was a goal that also eliminated USA from contention, and the fact that Torres earns his keep Stateside (for Seattle Sounders) merely adds another layer to an already-unlikely tale.

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