Mexico vs. Panama: What El Tri Must Do to Salvage World Cup Hopes
It's pretty amazing that, with just two CONCACAF qualifying games remaining, Mexico is currently in fifth place on the table and in danger of not even qualifying for a playoff game to reach the 2014 Brazil World Cup.
It's also pretty amazing that—for a team that has scored just four goals in eight qualifiers—they still control their own destiny. With a win over Panama on Friday—also sitting on eight points in the hexagonal—Mexico will need just a point against Costa Rica to finish fourth.
So how can El Tri get three points on Friday?
For one thing, they need to allow a home match at Estadio Azteca to be an advantage, not buckle under the pressure of the home crowd. It's supposed to be Mexico's fortress, not the site of their demise. It's unthinkable that El Tri has yet to win at the Azteca in the hexagonal phase.
For another, the club must buy into interim manager Victor Manuel Vucetich's scheme, whatever it may be. Playing for a third manager in three matches is no easy task, but any sort of petulance to the new man's plan will virtually guarantee Mexico misses the World Cup.
The additions of Memo Ochoa, Rafael Marquez, Lucas Lobos, Christian Gimenez and Damian Alvarez will help, though nothing is more important than getting star forward Javier Hernandez back on track. He hasn't played much for Manchester United this season, though he's generally come up clutch for Mexico when they need him.
And boy, do they need him.
Marquez should bring some toughness and grit to this team, something that has been missing in the hex. But Mexico also needs to be creative and assertive, which is where players like Marco Fabian and Giovani dos Santos can impact the proceedings.
Which team wins?
For Mexico, keeping a strong spine while also attacking with flair and ingenuity will be key. El Tri can't afford to be careless against Panama and find themselves vulnerable on the counterattack, but they also can't approach this match with too much caution.
Mexico is the more talented team—they must play like it. If they are timid or lack confidence, Panama will smell the fear and pounce.
In the end, Mexico need only to play up to its ability to win. Of course, seeing how poor they've been during the hex, that's easier said than done.
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