First they were headed toward a date with New Zealand. Then they were going home. Then in again. Then out.
And finally, when Graham Zusi headed in the equalizer in Panama City, the Mexican national team's hopes to reach Brazil were reborn from the ashes. And El Tri owe their hated rivals a cerveza or five.
Costa Rica sent Mexico to their eighth game without a win in the CONCACAF Hexagonal on Tuesday night at Estadio Nacional in San José, a 2-1 victory that featured a dramatic winner for the hosts through Álvaro Saborío.
The Real Salt Lake star was substituted into the match just four minutes out of halftime, and it took him exactly 15 minutes to leave his mark on the score sheet. With the game knotted at 1-1, Saborío found himself unmarked in front of the net and powerfully headed home a cross from the right wing from Christian Gamboa, leaving goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa no chance and putting Mexico on the verge of elimination.
Minutes later in Panama City, Panama pulled ahead of the US 2-1, putting them in the driver's seat for the fourth-place spot in CONCACAF and seemingly sending Mexico home to miss their first World Cup in 24 years. But the US' two goals in stoppage time prevented Los Canaleros from leapfrogging El Tri despite the defeat.
Mexico now face the expected scenario of a home-and-home playoff with New Zealand next month for a spot in Brazil next summer.
Costa Rica were the early agressors in this one, and took the lead just before the half-hour mark with a terrific strike from Bryan Ruiz, who headed the ball to himself inside the area and uncorked a 12-yard rocket past Ochoa.
Then Javier "Chicharito" Hernández and Oribe Peralta made up for an earlier blown opportunity just four minutes later. Chicharito dribbled around Keylor Navas and found himself with an empty net in front of him, but the Costa Rican 'keeper got a palm to his shot. Peralta was there for the follow-up, however, to even matters.
El Tri pressed desperately for another equalizer following Saborío's strike, but they never found one as the rain pounded down in the Costa Rican capital. Instead, their salvation came through Zusi a half-hour later.
The first leg of the Mexico-New Zealand playoff is scheduled for Nov. 13 or 14 at Estadio Azteca, with the second leg in Wellington on Nov. 20. The winner of the two-game aggregate-goals series gets a spot in next summer's World Cup.