Mexico hopes to score a second straight World Cup qualifying victory on the road against Panama. While the two sides are atop the hexagonal group heading into Friday's action, the margin for error remains thin due to the group's parity.
El Tri survived some tense moments in Tuesday's clash with Jamaica to secure three crucial points. Aldo de Nigris provided the only goal in the 48th minute and Mexico was able to hold on. Another win will put them back in good shape to make the trip Brazil.
On the flip side, Panama wants to reclaim its spot atop the group. The top three teams in CONCACAF automatically qualify for the World Cup. If the Canaleros allow Mexico to start pulling away, they face a much tougher task, especially with the United States also looming.
Expect desperation from both sides as qualifying continues to heat up. Let's take a look at all the key information for the match, along with some players to watch and a prediction.
Where: Estadio Rommel Fernandez in Panama City, Panama
When: Friday, June 7, at 10 p.m. ET
Live Stream: Telemundo Mobile
Panama Player to Watch: Luis Tejada
The veteran attacking duo of Tejada and Blas Perez is one of the main reasons Panama has been able to put itself in a promising qualifying position. They have nearly 150 matches of combined international experience and don't get rattled in the high-pressure situations.
Tejada has scored 35 goals in 71 national team appearances. In order for the Canaleros to keep pace with a Mexican attack that's due to break out soon, he will probably have to add to that impressive total for Panama to emerge with a positive result.
The biggest key is attacking the less experienced members of the El Tri back line. Diego Reyes and Severo Meza, who started against Jamaica, have less than 20 international games under their belts. If they get the call again, Tejada should test them as much as possible.
Mexico Player to Watch: Jose de Jesus Corona
El Tri have switched back and forth between Corona and Guillermo Ochoa. After his clean sheet against Jamaica, Corona should find himself in the starting lineup once again. Without a clear-cut No. 1 goalkeeper, Mexico simply has to ride the hot hand.
The 32-year-old Guadalajara native came up big to ensure El Tri would get the three points it needed last time out. Not only did he keep the game scoreless until halftime, but he continued to command his box well after the De Nigris to preserve the shutout.
A similar showing will be necessary in the second match of the critical three-game stretch. Panama has illustrated the ability to put on some serious offensive pressure. Until the Mexico attack wakes up from its slumber, the onus will remain on Corona to keep them in matches.
Matchup to Watch: Javier Hernandez vs. Panama back line
When in top form, "Chicharito" is the most dangerous attacking player in CONCACAF. Considering how much the other members of the Mexican squad have struggled to create and convert chances, he's also the most vital player in the region.
Panama knows that and will focus its defensive game plan on slowing him down. If the Canaleros are able to keep him off the score sheet, they will, at the very least, be in the match late like Jamaica was. They should take their chances with other El Tri players being forced to beat them.
That said, Hernandez will be hungry for a goal or two after getting held down by the Reggae Boyz. Don't be surprised if he puts together a highlight-reel performance and ends up carrying Mexico to three more key points. He's certainly capable of it.
Mexico 2, Panama 1