Mexico got a small manner of revenge on Honduras for a home defeat in World Cup qualifying last year with a 2-0 win on Thursday, but on Sunday the situation will be reversed for El Tri. Mexico finally nervously claimed its place in a playoff for Brazil and onto the World Cup, despite a torrid campaign, and did so at the expense of their upcoming opponents in Querétaro, Panama.
For both countries, for very different reasons, it was a moment that will never be forgotten when Raul Jimenez launched a stunning overhead kick from the edge of the area into the net with five minutes remaining to give Mexico a vital win over Panama at the Azteca. Four days later further drama followed when Mexico blew the advantage it had just garnered with a defeat to Costa Rica, but were reprieved when Panama, agonizingly again, squandered a lead against the United States to cost them a place at a first ever World Cup.
Mexico were soon rejuvenated by the arrival of coach Miguel Herrera and went onto reach the last 16 in Brazil, but, with little time to reflect, are now fully preparing to compete on two fronts next summer. Herrera is feverishly trying to build two distinct teams capable of competing in both the Copa America and Gold Cup in 2015. As with last month’s friendlies against Chile and Bolivia, Herrera will make changes in between the back-to-back games, although he has hinted that there won’t be a completely different 11 this time around.
A 2-0 win over Honduras was a solid, if not spectacular, result. Particularly early on, Honduras gave Mexico some trouble, and, indeed, finished the match with more possession than their illustrious Central American rivals. The main positive perhaps came from the manner in which Javier “Chicharito” Hernández converted the opening goal, with the striker enduring a tough time both at international and club level in the past year and still finding his feet on loan at Real Madrid.
The second goal was powerfully headed in by Oswaldo Alanis to provide an early boost to one of the members of Herrera’s new-look defense. It is at the other end where the back line will be judged, however. Without Rafa Márquez, whose international future remains uncertain, the injured Hector Moreno, retired Francisco Rodríguez and Diego Reyes, who is still not playing at Porto, it is a highly inexperienced crop of players that Herrera is attempting to mold into his back-three system.
The next test comes up against a Panama side looking to build upon rather than be knocked back by its near-failure to make it to the World Cup. In its attempt to do so, the country’s federation dispensed with coach Julio Dely Valdés and turned to former Colombia coach Hernán Dario Gómez. In his first assignment he led Panama to third place in the Central American Cup thanks to wins over Nicaragua and El Salvador and a draw against World Cup quarterfinalists Costa Rica. Gómez’s squad for the friendly with Mexico features veteran FC Dallas forward Blas Perez, who sits just one goal behind Luis Tejada’s record of 37 for Panama.
Prediction: Like Honduras, Panama should present Mexico with a meaningful examination as Herrera looks to take the team forward. It may be especially difficult if Herrera chooses to rotate the likes of Hector Herrera, Oribe Peralta and Hernandez. Potential incomers Erick Torres and Javier Orozco have much to do to stake their claims for a regular place in the international setup. With changes likely again at the back, it could be that Mexico’s streak of three games without conceding a goal comes to an end, but they should still get a win on home soil
Mexico 2-1 Panama
Kickoff time: 5 p.m. EDT
TV channel: ESPN2, UniMas, Univision Deportes