Mexico’s Hirving Lozano (pictured) celebrates after scoring against visiting Panama in a World Cup qualifier on September 1, 2017, in Mexico City. (Photo: Mexsport)/em>
MEXICO CITY – Mexico (5W-2D-0L, 17 points) sealed a berth in the 2018 FIFA World Cup with a 1-0 win over visiting Panama (1-4-2, 7) in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying on Friday night at the Estadio Azteca.
Two minutes after coming off the bench, Hirving Lozano headed home the only goal early in the second half.
The result means that the Mexicans, who needed to overcome New Zealand in a playoff to qualify for Brazil 2014, can finish no worse than third in the Hexagonal. They regained sole possession of first place and now hold a three-point advantage over second-place Costa Rica (4-2-1, 14), which beat the United States, 2-0, earlier in the evening.
Panama’s winless streak in qualifying was extended to six games. The Canaleros now sit in fifth place, one point behind Honduras – a 2-1 winner over Trinidad & Tobago -- and the USA.
Lozano netted in the 53rd minute, heading in from six-yards out off a cross from the left side of the box by Jesus Manuel Corona, who did well to maintain possession after a challenge by defender Adolfo Machado.
Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa was in tremendous form, especially in the second half, when he made a series of outstanding saves.
In the 5oth minute, the Standard Liege custodian dove left to deny Ricardo Buitrago’s free kick. Twenty minutes later, Ochoa scrambled to the left post to punch away Armando Cooper’s left-sided cross, which appeared to be heading into the net.
Both sides return to action on September 5, with Mexico visiting Costa Rica and Panama hosting last-place T&T.