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Mexico into Cup, Ticos nearing berth

Mexico became the second team in CONCACAF to secure their place in the 2006 FIFA World Cup finals while Costa Rica all but clinched the region's third direct place after the two posted victories at home on Wednesday night.

Mexico hammered hapless Panama 5-0 in a dominant performance at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City to book passage to Germany 2006, and Costa Rica took advantage of Guatemala's home draw with the USA with a 2-0 victory against Trinidad & Tobago in San Jose that effectively ended the Soca Warriors chances for one of the top three places.

With their victory, Mexico moved level with the USA atop the final CONCACAF hexagonal, both with 19 points. Costa Rica extended their lead in third place, now with 13 points, five ahead of Guatemala with two matches to play. The teams play each other in the final weekend, though a Costa Rica victory at home against the USA on Oct. 8 (or a draw if Guatemala fails to win) and the ticos will clinch the third and final berth.

Mexico advanced to the World Cup in a match that barely needed hard work and one where the home team had control of the ball and the game from the opening minute. Despite the heavy margin, it could have been worse as the Mexicans had a large number of quality chances they couldn't convert, while their Panamanian rivals didn't make Mexico goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez nervous for a second.

Mexico took the lead in the 30th minute when a shot at goal was headed clear by a Panamanian defender, but right to midfielder Luis Perez, and he skillfully brought the ball down with his chest before slamming home the opening goal of the match.

Nine minutes into the second half a Pavel Pardo cross was knocked in by Rafael Márquez to give Mexico some breathing room and pile more pressure on Panama, which broke when they committed a penalty, converted by Jared Borgetti for the third goal just five minutes later.

Francisco Fonseca hit for a Mexican fourth in the 75th minute, at which point the Panamanians began to lose their heads and commit fouls with abandon. Pardo took advantage of one of these in the 78th minute to provide the final scoreline. Panama were left with nine men as Ricardo Phillips was sent off with a straight red card and Felipe Baloy for a second caution over the final 13 minutes.

At the Estadio Saprissa, Costa Rica went a long way in ensuring their ticket to Germany with victory against visiting Trinidad & Tobago.

Costa Rica technical director Alexandre Guimaraes set out his team with an attacking mindset and a number of early chances finally paid off after just 14 minutes. Ronald Gomez set off on a run down the right flank and found Alvaro Saborio with a low cross, and he easily finished for the opening strike.

Paulo Wanchope was dangerous all night, and in the 50th minute another threatening move of his ended in a foul just outside the area. Walter Centeno punished the error, whipping in a free kick to double the Costa Rica lead.

Michael Umaña (Los Angeles Galaxy) was a 71st-minute substitute for Costa Rica, coming on a minute after Kansas City Wizards striker Scott Sealy came into the game for T&T.

The loss left Trinidad & Tobago with seven points and needing a miracle if they are to secure a first-ever berth in the World Cup. But just a point behind Guatemala, they can still earn a place in the playoff against the winner of the Asian playoff between Uzbekistan and Bahrain.

Contributing: María del Mar Salinas, MLSnet.com Staff, from Mexico City


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