Having already qualified for the 2018 World Cup, Mexico was given a surprisingly tough test from Trinidad and Tobago before Javier Hernandez's rebound goal in the 88th minute gave his squad the lead for good in a 3-1 win in Friday's CONCACAF showdown.
Mexico closed with an offensive flourish, scoring all three of its goals in the span of 15 minutes.
After a scoreless first half, Shahdon Winchester got the Soca Warriors on the board with a perfectly placed shot over the head of Mexico keeper Jose Corona in the 66th minute.
Chucky Lozano evened the score for Mexico in the 78th minute. Chicarito's follow-up header 12 minutes later helped the Mexican squad avoid defeat. Hector Herrera added insurance in the final minute of play.
Mexico came into Friday leading the current CONCACAF World Cup qualifying standings with 18 points and a plus-eight goal differential through its first eight matches. Trinidad and Tobago, on the other hand, had a 1-0-7 record and had been outscored by 11 goals before giving Mexico all it could handle.
This was the first match for both countries since Sept. 5. Mexico tied Costa Rica, currently in second place with 15 points in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying standings, in its last test.
Trinidad and Tobago's lone win in qualifying was on Mar. 24 against Panama, which is fighting for its World Cup life with hopes of advancing to the inter-confederation playoffs next month. Dennis Lawrence's squad was playing for pride having already been eliminated from a chance at advancing to Russia next year.
One of the big questions for Mexico coming into Saturday was finding someone in the midfield to step up. Herrera was given the role in the Confederations Cup and has had his ups and downs, not being afraid to set the pace with the ball but also being limited on defense.
Herrera's free-kick goal in extra time was a feather in his cap to impress manager Juan Carlos Osorio.
Nicholas Mendola @NicholasMendola
It’s late but holy smoke did Hector Herrera just wake up the neighbors with that free kick for Mexico. Gorgeous painting2017-10-7 03:37:37
Hernandez's goal was fitting after he commented coming into the match against Trinidad and Tobago how important it was for Mexico to make it through the CONCACAF Hexagonal with an unbeaten record.
"Four years ago we weren't the worst in history and now we aren't the best," he said, via ESPN FC's Tom Marshall. "We hope to qualify undefeated."
One reason for Hernandez and Mexico wanting to go out strong is history. Mexico is now one point away from tying the country's best Hex total of 22 points, set in 2006.
"There’s the great chance to finish first in the final Hexagonal and complete this qualification cycle in a healthy way like we always talk about," Osorio told Jon Arnold of Goal.com. "Our goal, as it’s been during this work, always is to get at least four points of the six possible. We’re going to try to make it six. The plan this week has been very positive for the group."
Mexico has one match remaining against Honduras on Tuesday to accomplish the feat. It's already one of the 11 countries that has a spot in Russia for the World Cup:
#WCQ ⚽️🏆 @FIFAWorldCup
#WorldCup line-up so far 🇷🇺Russia 🇧🇷Brazil 🇮🇷Iran 🇯🇵Japan 🇲🇽Mexico 🇧🇪Belgium 🇰🇷Korea Republic 🇸🇦Saudi Arabia 🇩🇪Germany 🦁England 🇪🇸Spain 👀🏆2017-10-6 20:53:45
There has been a steady improvement for Mexico at the World Cup since finishing 15th in 2006. El Tri has climbed to 14th and 10th in the past two World Cups. The 10th-place position in 2014 was the country's best since reaching the quarterfinal in 1986.
A sloppy match against Trinidad and Tobago should serve as a wake-up call for Mexico. It's still in position to reach its qualifying goals, but there's still a lot of things for Osorio to correct before the squad belongs among the world's elite again.