Mexico became the fifth team to guarantee their place at the 2018 World Cup on Friday as the United States crashed to defeat at home to Costa Rica to place their qualification campaign in jeopardy.
A Hirving Lozano header on 53 minutes was enough to give Mexico a 1-0 win over Panama at the Azteca Stadium as the CONCACAF heavyweights reached the finals for a seventh successive occasion.
Mexico join Brazil, Japan and Iran alongside hosts Russia as the teams to have confirmed their places in next year’s finals.
Friday’s win saw Mexico go top of the six-nation final qualifying round in CONCACAF, with 17 points from six games.
The result means they are guaranteed one of the automatic World Cup berths awarded to the top three finishers in the group.
But while Mexico celebrated, arch-rivals the USA were left contemplating a road to Russia that has suddenly become much more uncertain following their 2-0 loss to 2014 World Cup quarter-finalists Costa Rica in Harrison, New Jersey.
The win left Costa Rica second in the standings on 14 points, while the USA continue to hold on to the third automatic qualifying place with eight points from seven games.
The Americans however are level on eight points with Honduras, who host the US next week in what promises to be a tense duel in the Central American nation.
Costa Rica striker Marco Urena was the hero at the Red Bull Arena, where a large contingent of Costa Rica fans in the 25,000-seat stadium made the fixture feel like an away tie for the USA.
Urena scored twice to give Costa Rica their first World Cup away win over the USA since 1985.
San Jose Earthquakes forward Urena exposed slack defending in the US back four in the 30th minute to fire Costa Rica ahead at the Red Bull Arena.
Urena then pounced on another sloppy piece of US defending eight minutes from time to complete a miserable night for the hosts.
The defeat — the first in a competitive fixture since coach Bruce Arena took over last year — leaves the US campaign to reach the 2018 finals in Russia in the balance.
Arena must now somehow turnaround his team’s display for next week’s clash with Honduras.
“We’ll take a day to reflect on this and come up with a plan,” Arena said. “But clearly walking away without any points tonight is very disappointing.
“We’ll move on. This is how you deal in competition sports. You don’t win every game.
– ‘Not our night’ –
“Tonight was not our night. We didn’t play well, but we still have three games left in the competition. We’re still in position to qualify for the World Cup.”
Urena grabbed his first on the half hour mark, when a poor clearing kick from goalkeeper Tim Howard was headed back towards the US territory.
The US defence was caught out of position and Urena burst through the middle before angling a low shot across Howard into the far corner to make it 1-0.
As tension mounted in the second half Costa Rica’s Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas twice pulled off superb saves from Christian Pulisic and Jozy Altidore to preserve the visitors lead.
With the US pushing forward Urena then grabbed his second, punishing another blunder to stroke home his finish past Howard.
In the day’s other game, Honduras grabbed a precious win over Trinidad and Tobago, downing the Caribbean side 2-1.