The work is hardly done for Mexico, but the longtime regional giant is in a much better place after Friday’s thrilling, pressure-packed 2-1 win over Panama at Azteca Stadium.
And what a way to win it, on Raul Jimenez’s spectacularly audacious bicycle kick in the 85th minute, an absolute show stopper that arrived not long after Panama’s Luis Tejada had equalized for the visitors.
Amazingly, it was Mexico’s first win at home in five matches of final round qualifying play in the region. The way it looks today: Mexico holds fourth place in the six-team CONCACAF final round group. That would put El Tri into a home-and-away playoff in November against New Zealand, with a spot in Brazil going to the winner.
There is still a chance for Mexico to pass Honduras and grab third, bypassing that white knuckle playoff series ahead. But as Honduras needs just a point Tuesday at already eliminated Jamaica to clinch the automatic berth that Mexico craves, no one should count on that.
Plus, there is also still a chance that Mexico loses at Costa Rica on Tuesday while Panama gets the result it needs to take the fourth spot, which would eliminate El Tri altogether; the Central Americans face Jurgen Klinsmann’s U.S. team on Tuesday in Panama City.
It wasn’t easy against Panama on Friday – then again, very little has come easily in the final round for Mexico. Remember, they had one loss, three draws and just one goal in four previous contests at Azteca in this round.
Oribe Peralta’s late first half goal was as well-taken – What a first touch to set up the shot! – but neither as historic or brilliant as Jimenez’s unbelievable, late effort.
Javier Hernandez had seen his tentative, second-half penalty kick saved (by LA Galaxy goalkeeper Jaime Penedo), adding to the drama of the night and keeping Panama in the fight.