Talk about World Cup pressure.
In his first game in charge, Mexico’s new coach Victor Manuel Vucetich must deliver a victory tomorrow at home against Panama, or Mexico could fail to qualify for the World Cup finals for the first time since 1990.
Vucetich has taken over from Jose Manuel de la Torre, who was fired after a loss to Honduras in September.
Mexico have yet to win at the Azteca Stadium in this qualifying campaign, previously an unthinkable statistic as the venue located at 2,250m above sea level in Mexico City has always been an imposing venue for visiting teams.
“We know we have not done things very well so far, but we have a great chance — it’s the last chance we have to correct things,” Vucetich said on Tuesday.
Talking with reporters, Vucetich repeated several times: “We have to win. We have to win.”
The US and Costa Rica have claimed two of the three automatic qualifying berths from the North American, Caribbean and Central American region. Honduras hold the third automatic spot with 11 points. Panama and Mexico have eight points, while Jamaica have four.
The fourth-placed team in the group faces a playoff against New Zealand for a spot in Brazil and right now — with a better goal-difference than Mexico — that is Panama.
In the final round of games on Tuesday next week, Mexico face Costa Rica away while Panama are at home against the US.
Panama had never defeated Mexico in an official game until this year’s Gold Cup, where they beat Mexico twice, before earning a draw in a recent World Cup qualifier.
“It’s all up to us,” Vucetich said.
Missing the World Cup would be a psychological blow to Mexico, who have yielded the top spot in the region to the US.
The US defeated Mexico 2-0 at home and then managed a 0-0 draw in Mexico City.