Mexico got their first win of the final round of Concacaf World Cup qualifying against Jamaica earlier this week, but coach Jose Manuel de la Torre will know that there is still much room for improvement as he takes his side to Panama on Friday. Following three straight draws, El Tri got a valuable 1-0 win in Kingston. But while the visitors will be encouraged by creating several, albeit squandered, chances in the second half, it still says much that goalkeeper Jose Corona was arguably their most impressive performer.
On the plus side for Mexico, Carlos Salcido’s switch to left-back again paid dividends as his ability to get forward and linkup with Andres Guardado led to the goal and was perhaps the side’s biggest threat. On the other flank, though, there is still work to be done. Pablo Barrera was functional at best on the right wing and behind him Severo Meza offers nothing like the same threat going forward as Salcido.
It is the balance between offense and defense that De la Torre still needs to find. That is particularly true in midfield. Against Jamaica, veteran Gerardo Torrado and Jesus Zavala played in the key central spots but both offer very little dynamism breaking upfield. The younger Hector Herrera would provide some of that, but De la Torre may be loathed to be more adventurous on a tricky trip to Panama. The one probable change for Mexico is Giovani dos Santos, who added some invention when he came on in the second half, starting ahead of striker Aldo de Nigris.
Panama currently lie second in the Hexagonal, just a point behind Mexico with a game in hand. They probably should be in an even stronger position too, having surrendered a 2-2 lead to Costa Rica in their opening match. Julio Dely Valdes’s attack will be led by the experienced Luis Tejada, who plays his club soccer in Mexico and has just moved on loan to Veracruz from Toluca.
D: Rodriguez, Baloy, Torres, Parrish
M: Quintero, Godoy, Barahona, Gomez
F: Perez, Tejada
D: Meza, Rodriguez, Reyes, Salcido
M: Torrado, Zavala
Barrera, Dos Santos, Guardado
Prediction: Mexico showed some improvement against Jamaica and looked more creative after the break with Dos Santos providing a crucial link between the attack and what is essentially a defensive six. De la Torre has to find a way of building more cohesion, both with the team in general to avoid it becoming split, and with partnerships all over the field.
Some of the apparent burden may be lifted from the players having got that first win, but they are unlikely to find their attacking flow in Panama when De la Torre’s first priority may well be not to lose. Panama have already shown themselves to be a very capable side in this qualifying campaign and should keep their undefeated run going with a draw.
Panama 1-1 Mexico
Where to watch: The World Cup qualifier will kick-off from the Estadio Rommel Fernandez in Panama City at 10 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by Telemundo, with a live stream available on Telemundo.com.