Mexico vs. Panama: El Tri Must Carry Momentum from Dramatic Win into Hex Finale

Tim DanielsFeatured ColumnistOctober 12, 2013

Raul Jimenez saved Mexico from another frustrating result at Estadio Azteca with a picture-perfect bicycle kick in the 85th minute against Panama to secure three crucial points for El Tri. The road to Brazil still has a couple more hurdles, however.

Given the enormous amount of tension that was released when Jimenez's miracle attempt struck gold, it would be easy for the Mexican squad to lose focus. As important as that goal was to put them one step closer to the World Cup, the journey continues.

El Tri complete Hexagonal play next week on the road against Costa Rica, which has already clinched a berth in next summer's marquee event and sits second in the group.

As things stand now, Mexico can finish anywhere from third to fifth depending on the results of the final matches. Third would give it a direct ticket to Brazil, fourth would lead to a playoff with New Zealand and fifth would result in the side's elimination.

That last potential outcome is why El Tri can't afford to let their guard down. Despite beating Panama, there's still a chance they don't even reach the playoff. They have to make sure they don't let their guard down and allow the unthinkable to happen on Tuesday.

Instead, Mexico must focus on carrying the momentum they gained when Jimenez struck late against Panama over to its matchup with the Ticos.

It's a match El Tri have the ability to win. Costa Rica showed virtually no attacking urgency in a lackluster 1-0 loss to Honduras. If Oribe Peralta and Co. can take control of the match early, it could turn into a fruitful night.

Peralta has been in terrific form lately. Mexico was struggling to find a player who could create consistent chances in the attacking third, and he stepped up to the fill the void. If he doesn't, the outlook is probably a lot more gloomy right now.

For the squad to reach it's peak, though, Javier Hernandez must elevate his level of play. One thing that's been amazing about him in recent years is his ability to play a limited role with Manchester United, but still step in for Mexico and showcase great form.

That hasn't been the case lately. The win over Panama was a perfect example. His first touch failed him, he couldn't deliver on a key penalty kick and he lacked the game-changing flair that's made him such an important player.

FORTALEZA, BRAZIL - JUNE 19: Javier Hernandez of Mexico reacts to a missed chance during the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013 Group A match between Brazil and Mexico at Castelao on June 19, 2013 in Fortaleza, Brazil.  (Photo by Miguel Tovar/Getty Image
Miguel Tovar/Getty Images

If Peralta and Hernandez can get going at the same time, Mexico's attack will go from listless to dangerous. Peralta is already in form and perhaps the poor showing against Panama will motivate "Chicharito."

Momentum is now on Mexico's side. The World Cup outlook has vastly improved and there's still a chance to make a miracle move into the top three by the time the dust settles on Tuesday.

First, El Tri must bear down and not let the excitement of the Panama victory cause them to lose focus on the remaining task at hand.