Costa Rica and Panama secured their spots in the final round of CONCACAF qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup on Friday with victories over Haiti and Jamaica in Group 2.
The pair join Group 1 winners Mexico in the next round along with Trinidad and Tobago from Group 3. Mexico ended El Salvador’s hopes with a 3-1 win.
The first two teams from each of the three groups qualify for a round robin stage. The top three from that ‘Hexagonal’ qualify automatically for Russia while the fourth-placed side goes into a playoff with a team from the Asian confederation.
Costa Rica secured their place with a 1-0 win over Haiti, Randall Azofeifa’s spectacular volley after 72 minutes giving his side the win in Port-au-Prince.
In Panama City, Gabriel Torres put the home side ahead in 28 minutes when he blasted home from Alberto Quintero’s feed, before substitute Abdiel Arroyo sealed the win in injury time by finishing off a counter attack with a fine angled drive.
Panama have never reached the World Cup Finals before.
In San Salvador, Mexico went behind after 24 minutes when Jorge Torres Nilo handled in the box and Alexander Larin dinked the ball into the centre of Guillermo Ochoa’s goal from the penalty spot.
The Mexicans, who won all four of their previous qualifiers, stepped up a gear in the second half and Hector Moreno brought them level in 52 minutes when he slotted home from six yards.
Angel Sepulveda made it 2-1 when he headed home a cross six minutes later and Raul Jimenez made no mistake from the penalty spot after 73 minutes when the referee ruled Sepulveda had been barged off the ball.
Mexico missed a host of chances to increase their lead but maintained their 100 percent record to sit top of Group 1 with 15 points.
Honduras beat Canada 2-1 in the group’s earlier match in San Pedro Sula. Canada must now beat El Salvador at home next Tuesday and hope Mexico beat Honduras if they are to have any chance of progressing to the final stage.
PETER RUTHERFORD, Editing