The game was a nail biter as Mexico played one of the most important games of their FIFA World Cup Qualifier matches on the grounds of the Azteca stadium Friday against Panama. Mexico defeated Panama 2-1. El Tri has been struggling to reach Brazil 2014 as they currently sit in the 4th position of the hexagonal, only giving them a shot at a playoff against New Zealand.
The game was the first with Coach Victor Manuel Vucetich, also known as “King Midas” for taking Monterrey to the FIFA Clubs World Cup on three occasions. Vucetich had the task of getting good results in the last two games of the competition after a dismal job done by Jose Manuel de la Torre.
Mexico hit the pitch with full force dominating control of the ball against a Panamanian team that hit the field with four defenders and five midfielders, leaving only FC Dallas striker Blas Perez as the pointer.
The Mexican squad easily recovered the ball but could not get past their taller competitors who had a virtual wall in front of Manchester United’s Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and Club Santos Laguna’s Oribe Peralta.
El Tri attacked and attacked pushing the Canaleros back. However, Cesar Dely’s team did not want to pass the half field as they defended giving up control of the ball.
With the constant pressure from Mexico the goal finally came. In the 40th minute Hernandez volleyed the ball over a defender to Peralta who controlled the ball and hammered it past the L.A. Galaxy’s Jaime Penedo. Mexico took the 1-0 minutes before half time.
The home side came out looking for a second goal as the Panamanian lines opened up. Panama needed to score to continue to stay ahead of El Tri on goal differential. The Canaleros attacked allowing the Mexicans to take advantage of the spaces.
CF Villarreal’s Javier Aquino took the ball all the way into the area and forced defender Harold Cummings to take him down. The referee pointed at the spot for a penalty. Hernandez shot to Penedo’s left. The keeper dove and stopped the ball from entering his net. Mexico let go of a good opportunity to double the lead and take a breath.
Mexico continued to apply pressure with Cristian “Chaco” Gimenez entering the field. The Cruz Azul midfielder had several opportunities as they inched close.
However, Luis Tejada would surprise the Mexican defense with Guillermo Ochoa off his line. He pushed through and put the ball in the net in the 81st minute. Panama celebrated, the Mexican squad was surprised. But the fans did not give up on their team.
Dely and his team decided to go back to the defensive strategy. Again they gave up control against a Mexican team that had all their cards on the table. Vucetich made his final substitution bringing on Club America’s Raul Jimenez who is performing well in La Liga MX.
Club Tijuana’s Fernando Arce centered to Jimenez who had his back to the goal. Jimenez controlled the ball and performed a bicycle kick that left Penedo motionless giving Mexico the 2-1. The crowd exploded with cheers as Mexico edged closer to a shot at Brazil 2014.
The goal took the air out of Panama’s sails as El Tri maintained possession of the ball and waited out the last five minutes of regulation. Mexico was close to the third goal from Carlos “Gulit” Peña who moved the ball past the defense and past the keeper. The Leon FC midfielder took the ball too far and missed what could have been a crowning achievement for him after his performance.
“There is still a lot left and we have to keep working,” Vucetich said after the game. “King Midas” was content with the victory but has his head concentrated on Tuesday’s game against Costa Rica. Mexico can still earn the direct ticket to Brazil 2014 with a victory over Costa Rica, if Jamaica can defeat Honduras. Then it will depend on goal differential.
It is good to keep in mind that since the infamous “Aztecaso” of 2001, Costa Rica has not been able to defeat Mexico in World Cup Qualification. That includes four games in Central America. In the last 13 games since the “Aztecaso” the "Ticos" have only managed 2 draws with 11 losses. That includes international friendlies and CONCACAF Gold Cups.