Mexico’s winning streak may have ended, but they will remain on top of CONCACAF’s qualification table after getting an away tie against Panama. Mexico struggled at first, but dominated the second half and finished the better team. While the Panamanian side has been the surprise of the competition, they faltered after using the same starting lineup for all three matches. Mexico will now wait until October where they have two key matches at home against Canada and Honduras and a tough away match against El Salvador, but will go in in prime position.
The first half started with Mexico coming out with Luis Romo and Jonathan Dos Santos taking over the role from suspended Edson Alvarez, while Panama came out with the same starting lineup for the third straight game. Panama came close to scoring after mistake from Jorge Sanchez allowed a Panama attacker to go through the wings and cross the ball into the area, where Alberto Quintero got the ball and made a good left footed shot. That forced Mexico’s goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa to make a great save. Mexico answered back with Jesus Corona getting into the area, but his shot was blocked by a defender. Minutes later Adalberto Carrasquilla injured himself and had to come out. Adalberto Ayarza came in, as it looked like the first player to suffer from the heavy workload that Panama has had so far in the qualifiers. Mexico had a good chance when Sanchez lowered the ball in the area, but his pass was deflected by a Panamanian defender. After a great start by Panama, Mexico had slowed down the match and taken control of the possession, although Panama looked lively when they had the ball. Then after a move, Jesus Corona got open and got off a great long range shot that forced Panama’s goalkeeper Luis Mejia to make a great save. Corona though had to come out to get treated for a cut in his knee before coming back in. Then after a cross into the area, Ochoa stopped the ball but Rolando Blackburn got in before Cesar Montes for and connected the ball past Ochoa for the 1-0 lead for Panama. It was a bad mistake by Ochoa but also Jesus Gallardo, who allowed the cross after failing to get to the ball. Mexico looked to have a good chance but it was called offside even before Mexico scored, replays showed it was an iffy play. Mexico had a good try with Gallardo lowering the ball, but the Panamanian defense was able to clear the ball. Mexico had a great opportunity when Corona send a cross into the area, but it was cleared before getting to Rogelio Funes Mori. Minutes later Rolando Blackburn fell injured and had to be stretchered out. Later Corona got into the area and fell down after what looked like a foul, but no penalty kick was given. Replays showed that he was stepped on. The halftime whistle blew and although Mexico had done well at times, they hadn’t created much danger and more importantly were trailing.
The second half started with Mexico subbing out Carlos Rodriguez, Rogelio Funes Mori, and Jonathan Dos Santos for Sebstian Cordova, Henry Martin, and Andres Guardado. Panama subbed in Cesar Yanis for the injured Blackburn. They also subbed out Alberto Quintero for Eduardo Guerrero. The half had Mexico dominating possession as Panama sat back. Romo got a ball in the area and got off a shot that forced Mejia to make a save. Mexico subbed out Orbelin Pineda for Uriel Antuna. After a great play by Antuna, the ball fell to Corona, who made a good move and got off a right footed shot that just went inches wide from scoring. Panama started to look tired from all the activity in past games. Off of a good counter attack, Cordova got a great shot that forced Mejia to make a great save. Then after a ball went into the area, it fell to Cordova, who got off a right footed shot past Mejia but it hit the post. The ball then fell to Jesus Corona, who made a good move and got off a right footed shot past Mejia to make it 1-1. Mexico had the deserved equalizer and hoped to build on Panama’s tiring legs. Panama subbed out Jose Luis Rodriguez for Cesar Blackman. Mexico had a good chance when Antuna got a cross into the area that fell to Cordova, who then tried to get past a defender and lost the ball instead of shooting with his right foot. Mexico made a second cross off a corner kick that forced Mejia to come out and almost bumble the ball. Mexico then subbed out Jesus Corona, who had been the best player in the second half, for Rodolfo Pizarro. Panama subbed out Edgar Barcenas for Alfredo Stephens. Mexico controlled possession against a Panama side that was sitting back completely. Panama was hoping for a tie and was helped by the referee only giving two minutes of injury time. The game ended as Mexico had complete control and finished better.
Mexico’s result might not please many fans, but they sit in first place and have done a good job under the tough circumstances that are World Cup Qualifiers. Mexico started the World Cup Qualifiers with a tough schedule of two away games in Central America and finished with seven out of nine possible points. Mexico also did it with a lot of players missing like Hector Herrera, Raul Jimenez, Hirving Lozano, Diego Lainez, and Johan Vasquez (all of them of the European contingent). Mexico is definitely going to need to fix the issues with European clubs because they need to have a deeper pool of players. The three matches per FIFA date really hits team, and Panama paid the price of not having players as they looked done and holding on for dear life in the second half although it’s a good result for them to get a point off the first place team. Mexico will now have to see if they can improve at home as they face very tough games against Canada and Honduras but right now Coach Gerardo Martino and Mexico can breathe a little easier after the pressure they loaded into themselves with the failure at the Gold Cup.