DENVER, March 24 — Mexico gave up a two goal lead to draw 2-2 in blazing heat in Honduras, while the United States beat Costa Rica 1-0 in a blizzard by the Rocky Mountains as CONCACAF’s World Cup qualifiers served up another night of drama and controversy.
In Kingston, Panama showed they are not going to accept their ranking as the weakest team in the six-team ‘hexagonal’ final qualifying phase as they fought back for a 1-1 draw with Jamaica.
Teams in CONCACAF have long sought to achieve as much advantage as possible from their home qualifiers with venue selection and kick-off times frequently designed to discomfort opponents and Friday’s games showed the two extremes that can result.
The temperatures in San Pedro Sula rose above 38º Celsius, no particular surprise given the Hondurans chose to kick-off at 1500 local, in blazing sunshine, rather than in the cooler evening.
How much of an impact that had on Mexico’s performance will be debated but after dominating with some sparkling football and two great finishes from Manchester United striker Javier Hernandez, El Tri crumbled and allowed two goals in the final 13 minutes as they had to settle for a second straight draw.
Hernandez put Mexico ahead with a superbly angled glancing header in the 28th minute after Andres Guardado burst past two defenders and delivered a pinpoint cross.
‘Chicharito’ struck again nine minutes into the second half with a darting run at the near post, poking in a free-kick by Carlos Salcido.
It was the 24-year-old’s 30th goal in 45 appearances for the Mexican national team and looked as though it would be enough for a victory.
But Carlo Costly gave the home side new life in the 77th minute with a powerful header from a Mario Martinez corner to cut the deficit.
Three minutes later, Costly was ruled to have been brought down by defender Francisco Rodriguez and Jamaican referee Courtney Campbell awarded a penalty.
Jerry Bengtson’s spot kick was saved by Mexico keeper Guillermo Ochoa but the Honduras striker drove in the loose ball.
The pressure was on the United States after their defeat in Honduras in February and reports of discontent among some players with coach Juergen Klinsmann.
But after their victory, thanks to a 16th minute strike from new skipper Clint Dempsey, the US now head to Mexico City on Tuesday with a point more than their arch rivals.
Costa Rica, though, were fuming about the referee’s decision to keep playing through a blizzard which intensified as the game progressed on a snow covered field.
Head coach Jorge Luis Pinto said the game was an “embarrassment to football” and midfielder Cristian Bolanos was also irate.
“It was robbery, a disgrace, I’ve never played a game in these conditions,” the player added.
Costa Rican officials said their federation would protest to FIFA about the referee’s decision to continue with play, but on the field they fought hard to the end and could easily have taken a point from the game.
In Jamaica, Marvin Elliott headed the ‘Reggae Boyz’ into a 22nd minute lead, with his first international goal coming from a Demar Phillips corner.
But Panama showed once again they don’t roll over as they battled back and got their reward in the 66th minute, with a long range shot from Luis Henriquez which took a deflection and beat the diving Donovan Ricketts.
On Tuesday, Panama host Honduras while Jamaica travel to Costa Rica. – Reuters