On a high from sealing a place at the 2017 Confederations Cup with a dramatic victory over the United States, Mexico will begin casting its eye toward the World Cup in a friendly with Panama in Toluca on Tuesday. It is just three days since Paul Aguilar’s superb volley two minutes from the end of extra time secured a 3-2 victory over its great Concacaf rivals in front of 93,000 in the Rose Bowl. And, while attention will already be turning to the start of World Cup qualification next month, it promises to be a celebratory atmosphere at the Estadio Nemesio Díez.
Tuesday’s match will also act as a farewell to coach Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti. The Brazilian-born Tigres coach was appointed on an interim basis following Miguel Herrera’s departure, with the task of leading Mexico to victory against the U.S. and to a place in the World Cup dress rehearsal in Russia in 2017. Having resisted the temptation to take the job in a permanent capacity, the result on Saturday ensured that all parties will go their separate way with fond memories ahead of Juan Carlos Osorio beginning his reign on Wednesday.
“My time here with the national team has brought me great happiness big satisfaction,” Ferretti said at a press conference on Monday. “I came with a task in hand and objectives ahead of me and thankfully those have been fulfilled, but there is still a game to go and we must take it seriously. Tomorrow after the game I’m going to train Tigres, turn the page and close a page of my career.”
Ferretti gave the press conference minus his trademark moustache, having followed through on a promise made to his players to shave it off if they made it to the Confederations Cup. While detailing the fondness he has for his players, the 61-year-old also stressed the need for everyone in Mexico to get behind his Colombian successor and to avoid the kind of instability that means Osorio will be Mexico’s sixth coach in a little over two years.
Osorio is sure to have his eye tuned to the contest on Tuesday, when Ferretti is set to field a much-changed lineup, featuring a host of players with a point to make to their next coach. Already three of the squad’s most experienced players -- Rafa Márquez, Andres Guardado and Javier “Chicharito” Hernández -- have returned to their clubs. Among those likely to come in are Real Sociedad forward Carlos Vela, rising Porto star Jesús Corona and midfielder Jonathan dos Santos. Goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera and midfielder Carlos Esquivel could also be involved at the venue where they play their club soccer with Toluca.
No matter what happens on Tuesday, though, there is little chance of it matching the drama of the last time Mexico and Panama clashed on Mexican soil. In the penultimate round of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, Raúl Jiménez scored a late wonder goal to give Mexico a crucial victory. A few days later, Panama conceded two late goals to the United States to miss out on its chance to go to a first ever World Cup and allow Mexico to sneak into the playoffs. And Panama tasted further bitter disappointment at the hands of Mexico this summer, when, after some hugely controversial refereeing, El Tri prevailed 2-1 in extra time in the Gold Cup semifinals.
Still, Panama has other reasons besides revenge for wanting a positive result ahead of the beginning of World Cup qualifying. It is now 11 matches and almost seven months since Hernán Darío Gómez’s team tasted victory, excluding its two penalty shootout wins at the Gold Cup.
Kickoff time: 10 p.m. EDT
TV channel: UniMás, Univision Deportes