Mexico survives; tears for Panama; Honduras, Costa Rica and United States get results in regional World Cup qualifying

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For about 10 minutes, the region was absolutely turned on its head, mad as some barnyard critter. Panama’s dreamy visions of a first World Cup berth were alive and kicking thanks to a lead over the United States down in rainy Panama City.

Mexico, so talented, so heavily favored to rule the region as final round qualifying started earlier this year, was on the brink of the unthinkable, missing its first World Cup since 1990 while going down meekly on a rainy night in Costa Rica.

And then it really got weird …

Goals by two U.S. men, Graham Zusi and Aron Johannsson, put the heart paddles (Clear!) on Mexico’s World Cup heartbeat. Imagine that … the United States riding heroically to Mexico’s rescue!

All three final matches in CONCACAF final round World Cup qualifying were playing out dramatically at the same time, all with something to say about who did and did not go to Brazil next summer. (How much do simultaneous kickoffs rock!)

Here’s the quick look at how the CONCACAF region finished. More to come at ProSoccerTalk:

United States 3, at Panama 2: The United States finished with a late win, shattering Panamanian hearts as Zusi, scoring in his second consecutive World Cup qualifier, timed his run into the penalty area and clinically headed in Brad Davis’ cross from the left.  Johannsson’s swell strike made the final score 3-2, but it was that tying goal that made the difference.

Panama needed a clear victory in order to take fourth place away from Mexico.

(MORE: How the historically dramatic night unfolded, as told through social media)

at Costa Rica 2, Mexico 1:  The insanity of it! Mexico couldn’t get the job done and needed – check that; “desperately needed” – help from its most bitter rival just to get into a playoff for a spot in Brazil.

It looked like madness at times in San Jose, Costa Rica. Visiting Mexico was desperate for a result. Costa Rica, its place at World Cup 2014 secure, was free to play loose, but driven by the opportunity to potentially bounce the longtime regional bully right out of Brazilian contention.

Bryan Ruiz set the entire region alight with his early goal, as the Fulham man spun inside the Mexican penalty area to set the home crowds on fire in two countries, there and in Panama.

Mexico equalized, but Alvaro Saborio’s uncontested header put the Ticos up in the 64th minute. Rafa Marquez, recalled somewhat inexplicably into the team, was all kinds of lost when he should have been marking Saborio.

The Mexicans threatened here and there but, let’s be honest: El Tri barely deserves to be here. They are lucky to remain alive in this competition, with little heart about it all and even less creativity in its attack.

The home-and-away playoff for a spot in Brazil will be in November.

Honduras 2, at Jamaica 2: Congrats to Los Catrachose, a small country that keeps accomplishing big things in soccer. A draw in Kingston – never mind those nervous moments at the end of this one – puts Honduras into a second consecutive World Cup.

Automatic berths from CONCACAF, therefore, go to:

  • United States
  • Costa Rica
  • Honduras

The region’s fourth-place playoff spot (for a home-and-away series with New Zealand):

  • Mexico

UCL wrap: Barcelona, PSG roll; Dzeko scores stunner (video)

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There were a few more zeroes on the board in Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League action, but that doesn’t mean the day failed to entertain by any stretch of the imagination.

[ MORE: Landon Donovan, USSF prez? ]

Chelsea and Roma staged a slugfest at Stamford Bridge, while PSG and Barcelona saw its stars shining, and Jose Mourinho orchestrated another away defensive masterclass for Manchester United.

Chelsea 3-3 RomaRECAP

There’s a lot to say about this one. Chelsea goes up 2-0 through solid goals from David Luiz and Eden Hazard, but finds itself down and needs another Hazard goal to rescue a point.

But this goal, one of two from Edin Dzeko, is why we watch this wonderful sport. Aleksandar Kolarov also scored and had an assist as ex-Man City men came to play at Stamford Bridge.

Benfica 0-1 Manchester UnitedRECAP

The perfect road match, more or less, though United scored its lone goal thanks to goalkeeper error. Marcus Rashford took the free kick that was carried across the goal line, and United completed more than 500 passes to double Benfica’s output at the Estadio da Luz.

Barcelona 3-1 Olympiacos

It’s not much of a surprise to see Barca triumph at home over Greek opposition. An own goal joined Lucas Digne and this historic Lionel Messi marker to build a 3-0 lead at the Camp Nou.

Anderlecht 0-4 Paris Saint-Germain

In case you think PSG cannot make a run this year, consider its list of goal scorers on Wednesday: Kylian Mbappe, Angel Di Maria, Neymar, and Edinson Cavani.

Elsewhere
Qarabag 0-0 Atletico Madrid
Juventus 2-1 Sporting Lisbon
CSKA Moscow 0-2 Basel
Bayern Munich 3-0 Celtic

Mourinho: Tactics involved targeting young Benfica backstop

AP Photo/Armando Franca
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Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho knew that promising Benfica backstop Mile Svilar would be facing some big nerves.

The 18-year-old was making his UEFA Champions League debut, and Mourinho instructed his Red Devils to challenge the backstop at every turn.

[ RECAP: Benfica 0-1 Man Utd ]

That paid off when Svilar carried Marcus Rashford‘s free kick into the goal, the lone marker of a 1-0 loss that keeps United atop Group A and Benfica three points behind second- and third place.

“I knew how good the goalkeeper was, I told the players that. We had a little bit of a strategy, especially on set-pieces to make him uncomfortable. We put men around him on corners so he cannot come out. He risks a lot, but only top keepers do that. He was unlucky for the goal,” Mourinho said.

Svilar looked dejected after the game, apologizing to fans at the Estadio da Luz and getting consolation from a fellow Belgian in Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku.

Nemanja Matic laid out United’s strategy a bit more, from the BBC:

“The manager said to us to try and shoot and get some crosses towards their goalkeeper because he is young and playing in his first game. This is football and I know he is a great goalkeeper and I wish him well for the future.

“We had control, some difficulties in the first 30 minuets but then we controlled the pitch. We used our experience. We could not find the second goal but did not make any mistakes at the back.”

Rashford limped out of the game, and Mourinho says he initially thought it was cramps. Instead, it’s a problem with his left knee. Simon Peach of the Press Association quotes Mourinho as hoping the injury is not bad.

United completed more than 500 passes, doubling Benfica’s production. Some have been critical of Mourinho’s penchant to play it safe, and he winked at them after the match in calling his tactics “a crime.”

“We were in control, David De Gea did not have one save to make. I never felt we could concede a goal and were solid defensively. Sometime I feel being good defensively is a crime, but that is a way of getting results.”

Chelsea 3-3 Roma – Thrills at the Bridge

AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth
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  • Luiz, Hazard put Chelsea up 2-0
  • Kolarov, Dzeko brace flip lead
  • Hazard nabs equalizer
  • U.S. U-20 mid Scott on bench for Chelsea

Eden Hazard scored twice as Chelsea overcame the sacrifice of a 2-0 lead and the Blues drew AS Roma 3-3 at Stamford Bridge in UEFA Champions League action on Wednesday.

David Luiz also scored for Chelsea. Ex-Man City men Edin Dzeko and Aleksandar Kolarov starred for Roma, with Dzeko scoring twice and Kolarov adding a goal and an assist.

Chelsea has seven points to lead Group C, two more than Roma and five ahead of third-placed Atletico Madrid. The sides will meet again in Rome on Halloween.

[ MORE: Landon Donovan, USSF prez? ]

Luiz started the scoring with a delightful strike. Call it a second bite at the proverbial apple if you must, but then admit he sunk his teeth into it.

Eden Hazard made a darting run to double Chelsea’s lead, but Kolarov pulled Roma within one with a deflected strike past Thibaut Courtois.

Diego Perotti curled a shot that hardly troubled Courtois in the 63rd minute, the Chelsea keeper just leaving his feet collect it.

Dzeko and Chelsea’s Andreas Christensen (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Then the former Man City striker struck again, seeing a long diagonal ball over his shoulder and whizzing a perfect left-footed volley through the flailing arms of Courtois.

Dzeko then made a late move before a Kolarov free kick to lose his mark and nod home a go-ahead goal.

It wasn’t over, as Hazard found his way to space and a cross from Pedro.

The Belgian headed his chance beyond a diving Alisson, and it was 3-3 with 15 minutes to play.

American-English midfielder Kyle Scott did not make his Chelsea bow. The 19-year-old has represented England at the U-16 level and the U.S. at the U-18 and U-20 levels.

Benfica 0-1 Manchester United: Match-winner Rashford injured

AP Photo/Armando Franca
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  • No shots on goal for Benfica
  • United puts four on frame
  • Man Utd out-passes Benfica 522-237.

Marcus Rashford scored the lone goal of the match, then limped off injured in Manchester United’s 1-0 win over Benfica in UEFA Champions League action at the Estadio da Luz on Wednesday.

United is close to wrapping up a knockout round berth with the win, leading Basel by three points, CSKA Moscow by six, and Benfica by nine.

Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho got his managerial start at Benfica when he replaced now-Bayern Munich boss Jupp Heynckes in 2000.

[ MORE: Landon Donovan, USSF prez? ]

Rashford’s free kick from the left fooled young Benfica backstop Mile Svilar.

The 18-year-old was making his UEFA Champions League debut, and was caught out of goal.

While retreating toward his end line, his two-handed catch carried him and the ball into the goal despite the efforts of his outstretched paws.