Mexico Beats Panama in Qualifier to Earn 2018 World Cup Berth

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistSeptember 2, 2017

Mexico's Hirving Lozano celebrates after scoring against Panama during their FIFA World Cup 2018 CONCACAF qualifiers football match in Mexico City, on September 1, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Alfredo ESTRELLA        (Photo credit should read ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images)
ALFREDO ESTRELLA/Getty Images

Mexico became the fifth country to qualify for the 2018 World Cup on Friday night with a 1-0 win over Panama at Estadio Azteca in CONCACAF play in Mexico City.

El Tri joined Russia (host nation), Brazil, Iran and Japan in esteemed company with the start of the international spectacular now less than a year away. 

The victory also pushed Mexico three points clear of Costa Rica atop the hexagonal qualifying standings after Los Ticos shocked the United States with a 2-0 triumph earlier Friday at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey. 

Panama, which had a chance to make a big move in the table, will continue to occupy fifth place with seven points following the narrow loss. 

The United States (eight points, plus-one goal differential) and Honduras (eight points, minus-seven goal differential) sit just ahead of Panama in third and fourth place, respectively. 

Given the stakes for both sides, the first half wasn't a particularly action-packed affair. 

But true to form, Mexico pushed the pace more than a Panama squad that was content to sit back and pick its spots on the counterattack. 

As a result, Mexico was able to generate the best chance of the opening 45 minutes when Javier Hernandez pushed an open opportunity just wide of the far post. 

ESPN FC's Cesar Hernandez provided a succinct summation of an otherwise lackluster first frame: 

However, it wasn't long before Mexico broke through. 

After Panama had two early second-half attempts—including a blistering free kicksaved in spectacular fashion by Guillermo Ochoa, El Tri countered when substitute Hirving Lozano headed home a picture-perfect feed from Jesus Corona in the 53rd minute to thrust his side in front. 

At that point, Hernandez noted the super-sub Lozano single-handedly changed the complexion of Mexico's attack: 

El Tri had opportunities galore to tack on a second goal, with the most notable coming in the 74th minute when Javier Aquino skied a wide-open attempt inside the box over the bar to keep Panama alive. 

But with Ochoa in fine form and Mexico's back line holding strong, Los Canaleros didn't have any answers as the clock ticked up. 

El Tri will return to the pitch Sept. 5 against Costa Rica at Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica, while Panama is scheduled to clash with Trinidad and Tobago the same day at Estadio Rommel Fernandez in Panama City. 

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