As was the case during its entire Hexagonal adventure, nothing came easy for El Tri, which lost at Costa Rica 2-1 Tuesday but still finished fourth in the standings after the United States' 3-2 victory over Panama. As a result, Mexico will enter a home-and-away playoff with New Zealand next month for a place at the 2014 World Cup.
Real Salt Lake forward Alvaro Saborio, a second-half substitute, scored the winner for Costa Rica, powering a free header past Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa in the 64th minute. That goal seemed to have put Mexico out of World Cup contention after Panama took a 2-1 lead on the USA, but Graham Zusi's late goal and Aron Johannsson's winner eliminated Panama and ensured that the loss would not put a shocking end to Mexico's qualifying campaign.
Mexico battled from behind for much of the night, but not before having the chance to seize control of the game early on. Chicharito continued his struggles, failing to convert Mexico's first great chance of the night. After a sharp passing sequence sent Oribe Peralta through behind the defense, the Santos Laguna forward squared his ball to Chicharito as Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas raced off his line. Chicharito attempted to one-time his shot into the vacated net, but he scuffed it and mishit it off Peralta, who was standing in an offside position by the far post, therefore negating the strike.
Mexico was made to rue that miss moments later, as Bryan Ruiz opened the scoring. The Fulham man scored in the 25th minute, getting in behind Mexico center backs Rafa Marquez and Hugo Ayala, latching onto a clipped, bouncing ball over the top and heading the ball to create space for himself as he turned and fired a left-footed volley past a helpless Ochoa.
As of that moment, considering Panama's 1-0 lead over the USA, Mexico was out of the World Cup, but Peralta ensured El Tri would jump back into fourth place just four minutes later. Again it was Chicharito that had a potential chance elude him, as Navas came off his line to swat a ball off his foot in the area. Peralta was there to fire home a follow-up shot off the underside of the crossbar, though, to level the score.
Chicharito missed another opportunity at the end of the first half, with Peralta sparking the build-up with a ball down the right channel for Javier Aquino. The Villarreal winger crossed to the near post, where Chicharito was making his run, but he put his first-time chance into the side netting.
Chicharito departed in the 60th minute for Friday's goal-scoring hero Raul Jimenez, but not before picking up a yellow card that will have him suspended for the first leg against New Zealand.
Saborio, who replaced Ruiz in the 49th minute, put Costa Rica back ahead off a free header in front of Ochoa minutes later, which put Mexico back out of the qualification places for just a moment until the USA tied things up with Panama just seconds later.
Navas and Ochoa exchanged highlight-reel saves to preserve the 2-1 scoreline, and Costa Rica midfielder Cristian Bolanos' miss off the far post in the 75th minute did the same. With Mexico unable to beat Navas and its fate resting solely in the USA's hands, the Americans came through at the death to keep Victor Manuel Vucetich's side alive for at least two more games.