Action from the World Cup Qualifying game between visiting Panama (left) and Mexico on October 11, 2013, at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. (Photo: FIFA via AFP)
MEXICO CITY – Mexico kept its prospects alive of an automatic qualifying place in next year’s World Cup finals with a 2-1 victory over visiting Panama on Friday.
The win was the Tricolor’s first in four games against the Canaleros this year, leaving the Central American side on the verge of elimination.
A Raul Jimenez goal with five minutes left in regulation – his first of the competition -- lifted Mexico into sole possession of fourth place in the CONCACAF Hexagonal table with 11 points. Third-place Honduras holds a three-point advantage for the confederation’s third and last direct berth in Brazil, while the fourth-place finisher will face Oceania winner New Zealand in an Intercontinental Playoff.
The match, played at the Estadio Azteca, started at a spirited pace with both teams looking to strike first.
Mexico, which had scored only once in four final-round outings at home, took a 39th minute lead thanks to forward Oribe Peralta. The Santos star played a neat combination with Javier Hernandez and beat Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo with an effort from the right side of the 18-yard box for his fourth tally in eight qualifiers.
The host had a great opportunity to double its lead after the break, when referee Joel Aguilar pointed to the spot after Peralta was fouled in the area. Hernandez – Mexico’s leading scorer in qualifying with five goals – took the kick, but Penedo made the save in the 57th minute.
Panama did not give up and grabbed an 82nd minute lifeline. Mexico struggled to clear a ball from its own end and it eventually fell to Luis Tejada, who played a give and go with Gabriel Torres. Tejada took a touch past goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa and then finished calmly from just in front of the net to make it 1-1. It was the 31-year-old forward’s sixth goal of the qualifying campaign.
A draw would have clinched third-place for Honduras, but Mexico and Jimenez had other ideas. With time running out, Fernando Arce found the Club America striker unmarked in the box. Jimenez, with his back to the goal, chipped the ball to himself fand unleashed a bicycle kick from 16-yards out that left Penedo rooted to the ground.
The triumph came in Victor Manuel Vucetich’s debut as head coach, keeping his side within touching distance of Honduras.
Mexico will look for three more needed points at Costa Rica on Tuesday, while Panama must beat the United States on the same day and hope other results go its way to book spot in the playoff.