Honduras reached the World Cup finals for the first time since 1982 after a 1-0 win at El Salvador, although they were unable to celebrate at the final whistle. After the win on Wednesday, which ultimately gave them the third and final automatic qualifying spot from the Concacaf region, Honduran players stood on the field awaiting news of the group's other vital game and broke down in emotional celebration after learning a late equaliser had earned the United States a 2-2 draw with Costa Rica.
That result put Costa Rica into a play-off with Uruguay, who were beaten 1-0 by Argentina, in the South American qualifying section. "We knew is would be a very tight game with an El Salvador team that is very well drilled, but that's football," said Honduras coach Reinaldo Rueda. "Today it's the Honduras fans' and their team's turn to celebrate, thanks to the work of many years. "We have months of work, months of matches and let's hope this victory works out for the good of all," he added.
Veteran striker Carlos Pavon, 36, scored the decisive goal on Wednesday. Pavon, who played in qualifiers for the 1998 World Cup and missed a late penalty in Saturday's 3-2 loss to the United States, was seconds away from ending his career without appearing in a finals but earned his chance after a night of drama. Honduras, looking nervous and edgy, had few chances before they grabbed the lead through Pavon's header in the 64th minute from a beautiful David Suazo cross.
The victory - the first home loss for El Salvador in qualifying - would not have been enough had Costa Rica hung on to their lead against the US. Instead, the Costa Rica coach Rene Simoes must find a way to lift his shattered team after automatic qualification slipped through their grasp following Jonathan Bornstein's injury-time header for the US in Washington. "First I have to rebuild their spirits. They are in the dumps. This was a shock for them," said Brazilian Simoes, who was in charge of just his second game with the team.
"Everything was going fine up until the last minute. The game just ended and its just very sad. Now we just have to start working again," he said. Striker Rolando Fonseca said that he believed the team's performance in the US capital showed they are capable of beating Uruguay and reaching next year's finals. "We lost under circumstances that hurt us all but now more than ever it demonstrates to us that, whoever we play, we will go to the World Cup," he said.
Simoes, who coached Jamaica at the 1998 World Cup finals, missed the decisive final minutes after he was sent off for arguing with the referee and the fourth official and had to be escorted from the bench by stadium security. The Brazilian said he had argued with the referee about a mix-up when the wrong number was produced for a substitution but the official initially refused to accept the change of number.
"I had to tell him 'please change that' it was a mistake but he didn't accept that. It was unfortunate." Costa Rica had gone 2-0 up in the first half through goals from Bryan Ruiz before Michael Bradley pulled one back for the US with 18 minutes left. Meanwhile, AC Milan will seek damages from the United States Soccer Federation after Oguchi Onyewu suffered a serious knee injury in the draw with Costa Rica.
US coach Bob Bradley said the defender would be out for up to four months after tearing a patellar tendon in his left knee. "I'm very angry because once again the national teams take our players and we have to pay the consequences of injuries," said Milan chief executive Adriano Galliani. "We demand compensation from the American Federation because we cannot pay the salary of a player who cannot play for six months."
Onyewu landed badly after jumping for a header, immediately called for assistance and was taken off the field on a stretcher. * Reuters