Mexico striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernández insists his team won’t be taking its foot off the gas as it prepares to take on Panama in Panama City on Tuesday. The game will come four days after Mexico kicked off the final round of Concacaf World Cup qualifying by getting a long-awaited win over the United States in Columbus, Ohio. Mexico had lost to its rival at Mapfre Stadium on all four previous visits.
The victory has given Mexico an ideal start to the Hexagonal and alleviated some of the pressure on coach Juan Carlos Osorio. However, Hernández insists that the players won’t be taking Tuesday’s opponent lightly.
“We have the same goal and same energy as we had in Columbus,” he said at a pre-match press conference in the Panamanian capital on Monday. “We respect the opponent that is fast improving. There is only motivation for the three points.”
Hernández has reason for extra motivation at the Estadio Rommel Fernández. The Bayer Leverkusen star remains just one goal shy of equaling Jared Borgetti’s Mexico goal-scoring record of 46. However, despite not finding the net in his last three outings for El Tri, he has insisted that he is not obsessed with reaching the mark.
There is an added personal element, too, for the two coaches involved. Osorio and his Panama counterpart Hernán Darío Gómez are both Colombian and frequently came up against each other when competing in the country’s domestic championship. Indeed, for a time the two men were in charge of the two big rivals in Medellin, with Osorio leading Atletico Nacional and Gomez at the helm of Independiente Medellin.
It was Osorio who got the upper hand, winning three and losing just one of their seven meetings. And Gómez has been full of praise for his compatriot ahead of Tuesday’s reunion, calling him Mexico’s most important asset.
But Gomez has achieved some impressive results of his own since taking charge of Panama in 2014. Building on the team narrowly failing to qualify for its first World Cup in 2014, when beaten out to a playoff spot by Mexico in dramatic fashion, Panama reached the semifinals of last year’s Gold Cup, when it took a hugely controversial refereeing performance to deny it victory over Mexico.
And Panama’s hopes of breaking its World Cup duck this time around and making it to Russia have already been given a boost by a 1-0 win in Honduras on Friday. Although Los Canaleros have never beaten Mexico in six World Cup qualifiers dating back to 2000, the last two played in Panama City have finished all-square.
Panama’s prospects of getting a first win on Tuesday have been aided by Mexico missing out on three players from its 2-1 win over the U.S. Captain Andres Guardado picked up a first-half hamstring injury, defender Carlos Salcedo saw a late second yellow card to rule him out through suspension, while Carlos Vela has left the squad to attend the birth of his son. However, Panama has its own absentees, with Armando Cooper and Felipe Baloy suspended.
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