After leading his adopted country to a victory that will live long in the memory, Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti will bring his short-lived spell in charge of Mexico to an end against Panama in Toluca on Tuesday night. Appointed on a four-game interim basis following the sudden exit of Miguel Herrera after the Gold Cup, the Brazilian-born Tigres boss fulfilled his central objective when leading El Tri past the United States in a thrilling Confederations Cup playoff at the Rose Bowl.
Ferretti has already done more than enough to long endear himself to the Mexican public and ensure that successor Juan Carlos Osorio will take over with the team on a high. It was not just that Mexico won on Saturday, but that it was superior to its great rivals for the majority of the 120 minutes. After landing the Gold Cup this summer, Mexico is now back on top of Concacaf. And that’s despite the continued turmoil behind the scenes.
Ferretti is the fifth man to coach Mexico in the past two-and-a-half years and it was notable that he refused to even speculate on the possibility of being brought back in an emergency capacity should things quickly go bad for Osorio. Still, regardless of the administrative issues, what Saturday showed was that on the pitch whoever is put in charge has much to work with. As well as the senior team displaying a technical and tactical edge over its great rivals in the region, the Under-23 team secured qualification for the 2016 Olympics. It continued the success for Mexico’s youth teams in recent years, which included claiming Olympic gold in London three years ago.
Ahead of beginning World Cup qualification against El Salvador next month, there is much to provoke optimism. But there is also little room for complacency, given Mexican soccer’s ability to veer from the subline to the ridiculous in recent years. And its opponents on Tuesday have been at that heart of that fine line between success and failure in recent years.
Panama would have prevented Mexico from making it to the last World Cup had Los Canaleros not conceded two late goals at home to the United States in its final qualifier. And many in Panama will also feel that it should have been they and not Mexico that was taking on the U.S. for a chance to go to the Confederations Cup. In this summer’s Gold Cup semifinal only some hugely controversial officiating saw El Tri secure an injury-time equalizer before going onto net a winner in extra time.
More than any other team, then, Panama have plenty of reason not to make Tuesday’s clash in Toluca a mere celebratory affair for Mexico. More than just a hope for revenge, Hernan Dario Gomez’s side will also be eager to build momentum ahead of the start of what is an arduous World Cup qualifying group involving Costa Rica, Jamaica and Haiti, in which only two will go onto the final round. Things did not go to plan on Thursday, when Panama suffered a friendly defeat at home to Trinidad and Tobago and afterward midfielder Armando Cooper was expelled from the squad, reportedly after expressing his displeasure at being played out of position. In a rapid turnaround, Cooper has since been reinstated ahead of the match with Mexico.
Given the exertions Mexico went through at the Rose Bowl on Saturday, it is likely that Ferretti’s final team selection will be much changed. Already it has been confirmed that there will be two alterations with veteran Rafa Márquez, a major injury doubt before the U.S. match, returning to his club Hellas Verona to continue his rehabilitation, and Javier “Chicharito” Hernández also being allowed to go back to his club, Bayer Leverkusen.
Prediction: While Panama will have extra motivation for the match, it has not won any of its last 11 matches, excluding penalty shootouts. And, although its team will doubtless be much changed and the defense could suffer, there is enough depth of talent going forward for Mexico to get another positive result.
Predicted score: Mexico 2-1 Panama