A late goal from Roman Torres punched Panama's ticket to their first World Cup, while the United States miss out for the first time since 1986.
US fail to reach World Cup after shock defeat to Trinidad & Tobago
A late goal from Roman Torres punched Panama's ticket to their first World Cup on Tuesday with a 2-1 win over Costa Rica, while the United States miss out for the first time since 1986 after Honduras pipped them to a playoff place.
With Honduras stunning group winners Mexico 3-2, the United States' 2-1 defeat to Trinidad & Tobago saw them finish fifth in the six-team North, Central American and Caribbean Concacaf final qualifying round.
Romell Quioto scored the winner in the 60th minute for Honduras, who will now face Australia in a two-leg play-off in November.
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Panama's win was not without controversy.
After the visitors went ahead through Johan Venegas' neat chip in the first half, a 53rd minute Panama corner bounced awkwardly off Gabriel Torres towards the net and while forward Blas Perez dived head first to try to force it home the ball was blocked on the line by Ronald Matarrita.
Somehow the Costa Rican defender scrambled it clear but the referee, who had been standing outside the box, awarded the goal.
There was no doubt about the winner from Roman Torres, however, after he hammered home a volley in the 88th-minute to spark wild celebrations in the stadium.
That goal not only sent Panama to their first World Cup but ensured the United States would miss out.
The Americans, who were sitting pretty in the final qualifying spot heading into Tuesday's game, fell behind to an own goal in the 16th minute from defender Omar Gonzalez and went two down when Alvin Jones scored eight minutes before half-time.
Christian Pulisic pulled one back shortly after the break but the United States failed to grab an equaliser.
"It was one of the most unlucky goals ever for myself and is one that will haunt me forever," a guilt-stricken Gonzalez said. "We let down an entire nation today."
Manager Bruce Arena said he will be taking responsibility for US exit.
"It's a blemish for us," Arena said. "We should not be staying home for this World Cup. We foolishly brought Trinidad into the game with the own goal. That was a big goal for Trinidad psychologically. That got them motivated."
American players were not aware of the scores of the other games until after the final whistle.
"When I looked over at the bench and everyone was sitting down," Gonzalez said, "I could just see from the looks on their faces that it wasn't good."
US captain Michael Bradley said: "You can go around in circles a million times over again, but the reality is that it was all there for us and we have nobody to blame but ourselves."
Missing the World Cup is a devastating blow to the USSF, which has steadily built the sport in the last quarter-century with the help of sponsors and television partners. It also is a trauma for Fox, which broadcasts the next three World Cups after taking the US rights from ESPN. The USSF hopes to co-host the 2026 tournament with Mexico and Canada, and Morocco is the only other bidder.
"Every time you have a setback you have to look at things, re-evaluate and get better," 38-year-old goalkeeper Tim Howard said. "And as a programme we have to get better. This hex [referring to the six-team group] proved that.
"There's some good teams on the up and up and we've got our work cut out for us."