Mexican newspaper front pages carry messages of thanks to the U.S. in Mexico City, Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013.ap
MEXICO CITY – America's soccer team is getting some love from the most unlikely place: Mexican sports fans.
Mexican newspapers on Wednesday published banner headlines reading "We Love You," and "Thank You, USA," after the U.S. kept Mexico's World Cup qualifying hopes alive with a 3-2 victory over Panama.
Mexico and the U.S. are usually bitter rivals. Feelings are so strong in Mexico that fans chanted the name of Osama bin Laden as the Star Spangled Banner played in a 2004 Olympic qualifying game.
Mexico lost its Tuesday match 2-1 against Costa Rica. If Panama had held onto its lead and beaten the United States, Mexico would have been eliminated from the World Cup qualifying rounds. But the U.S. scored two goals in the closing minutes of the game to pull ahead.
By beating Panama, the U.S. kept the Central American team out of a trip to Brazil and put Mexico in a playoff match against New Zealand for a chance to get to the 2014 World Cup.
Mexico will host the first leg on Nov. 13 or 14 and play at New Zealand on Nov. 20. The Mexicans have made every World Cup since they were disqualified from the 1990 tournament for using an over-age player at a youth event, but they sure cut it close this time.
Goals by Brian Ruiz in the first half and Alvaro Saborio in the second gave Costa Rica the win. The Ticos already had qualified for Brazil 2014 and wound up second to the United States in the round.
Oribe Peralta scored in the 29th minute for Mexico, which won only two games in the 10-game finals. One of those victories came last Friday night against Panama in the first match for new coach Victor Manuel Vucetich, and that was the difference for El Tri.
"We thought that we were out," Peralta said.
Still, Mexico could be hard-pressed to beat the Kiwis and get to Brazil, especially if it can't find some offense. In 10 games, the Mexicans scored seven goals.
"We've got to reflect, and we have to do whatever it takes to make it to the World Cup," Peralta added. "Things are not working as we wish."
Ruiz put Costa Rica in front with a brilliant move, heading the ball to himself in the penalty area, then whipping his left leg around for a shot from 12 yards that goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa had no chance of stopping.
But four minutes later, Mexico struck. Javier "Chicharito" Hernández broke free and was about to put the ball into the net when diving keeper Keylor Navas barely touched it away. But the ball went directly to Peralta, who sent it into the unguarded cage.
With rain coming down for most of the second half, particularly late in the match, each side pressed for another goal. Costa Rica got it, putting Mexico on the verge of elimination, when Saborio was left alone in front of the net to powerfully head home a feed from the right wing by Christian Gamboa.
El Tri pressed for a tying goal, couldn't find it, but was saved, ironically, by the U.S. rally in Panama.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.