MEXICO CITY — For the first time in a dozen years, Mexico is back on top of CONCACAF.
El Tri have won Gold Cups and are the CONCACAF Cup champion after defeating the United States in the 2015 showdown. But not since Oct. 11, 2005, has Mexico led the Hex, the final round of CONCACAF qualification.
Mexico went into the weekend as the second-place team but beat No. 1 Costa Rica 2-0 on Friday to move into the top spot. Combined with Panama's defeat in Trinidad and Tobago, the three points put Mexico alone at the top of the table.
"Now we’re where I think we deserve to be, and we’re going to prepare as well as we can for these next games that are coming," Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio said in his news conference after the victory.
On the last day of qualification in 2005, the U.S. jumped Mexico for the top spot. Both of the campaigns to qualify for the 2010 and the 2014 World Cups started poorly, with Mexico falling to the U.S. in Columbus, Ohio, to open qualification and never getting above second during the quest for South Africa.
In 2014, things were far worse. Mexico's opening matchday draw with Jamaica left it in the middle of the table, before El Tri moved into third place for matchdays four, five and six. But defeats to Honduras and the U.S. sent the team tumbling down to fourth, then fifth before bouncing back to fourth and making it to Brazil thanks to a win over New Zealand in the playoff.
While leading after mathday three does little for Mexico in the long term, it's a nice boost and also means the top spot is El Tri's to lose.
But the job is hardly done. The top team after three rounds of matches last cycle was Panama, which eventually fell to fifth and missed out on World Cup qualification.
Osorio said the credit is totally with his players, not him.
"I think every time we go out they’re executing the idea we want and believe in more," he said. "Today’s game represented a lot for all of us because we achieved our objectives with five, six, seven notable absences."
There could be more absences when Mexico travels to face Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday. Osorio said Jurgen Damm is all but ruled out with an injury, while Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez could play but is questionable after leaving Friday's game with a knock.