Having resuscitated their flagging FIFA World Cup bid, Mexico head into their final qualifier at Costa Rica today determined to make the most of their chance.
“Our goal is to go through and we will seek to win against Costa Rica,” said manager Victor Manuel Vucetich, who was tasked with salvaging Mexico’s disastrous campaign and saw his side beat Panama 2-1 on Friday in his first match at the helm.
Raul Alonso Jimenez was the unlikely star for Mexico, with his spectacular bicycle-kick five minutes from full-time giving the El Tri their first home win in the six-nation final qualifying group in North and Central America and the Caribbean.
The victory put Mexico in fourth place, three points behind Honduras, who only need to draw at last-placed Jamaica to punch their ticket to Brazil.
That means Mexico are almost certainly looking at a playoff against Oceania champions New Zealand for a World Cup berth, although they still nurse slim hopes of sneaking past Honduras to grab third place and direct entry to the finals.
“We have to give it our all to get the three points,” said Oribe Peralta, who scored the opener against Panama.
While Mexico’s players are well aware they cannot afford a let down, captain Rafael Marquez acknowledged that Friday’s victory was a major morale boost for the struggling side, who were facing the real possibility of missing the World Cup for the first time since 1990.
The win “brought us calm. It removed this bad vibe that we had at the Azteca Stadium,” he said.
If Mexico cannot maintain their momentum, Panama will try to pounce. They lie fifth in the table, trailing Mexico by three points, and host group winners the US.
Panama’s hopes of seizing fourth place and a playoff chance received a small boost when US manager Jurgen Klinsmann said at the weekend that Landon Donovan would miss the match because of a sore ankle.
The US took top spot in the group with a 2-0 win over Jamaica on Friday. They have 19 points, four more than Costa Rica, who also secured their Brazil berth.
Klinsmann will also be without Jermaine Jones, who is nursing a knee injury, while goalkeeper Tim Howard and Matt Besler have also left the squad as part of a planned rotation of players.
“Landon is still struggling with the ankle injury from a couple of weeks ago, so he will go back to Los Angeles and try to get back to 100 percent,” Klinsmann said. “Jermaine’s case is more of a concern. His knee was bothering him all night on Friday, but he battled through. It’s clear that the issue with his knee is something that should be taken care of right away so he can be 100 percent for Schalke  and the national team as soon as possible.”