Mexico is under pressure to win and prevent the unthinkable from becoming thinkable.
Mexico has qualified for every World Cup since 1994. Allowing for the disqualification of the senior team in 1990 after using over-age players in the World Youth Championships, the last time El Tri missed a World Cup on merit was 1982, and they've been at 14 of the last 16 tournaments. Five times in a row now, Mexico has made the round of 16.
That was then, this is now. 2013 has turned into a year of embarrassment for the Mexican program after a triumphant 2012 that saw an Olympic Gold Medal won against Brazil in London. Mexico has struggled in World Cup qualifying, drawing five of its six games, including three scoreless draws at the previously terror-inducing Estadio Azteca. Its high hopes to make an international statement of intent at the Confederations Cup went out the window with losses to Italy and Brazil. Even the Gold Cup, Mexico's bread and butter, ended in ignominy as Panama triumphed in the semifinal.
Presently Mexico is in third place in the Hex, good enough for an automatic berth if it can stay there, but Honduras is one place and point back. The Catrachos already pulled a fast one on Mexico back in March, when goals in the 77th and 80th minutes wiped out a two-goal lead courtesy of Javier Hernandez.
This Honduras game is the pivotal moment in Mexico's Hex campaign. A win, and Mexico could find itself undefeated and in second place, depending on Costa Rica's result against the USA. Meanwhile, a draw would expose El Tri on Tuesday, when they travel to Columbus -- a place where they've yet to win in three attempts -- and Honduras hosts the more palatable Panama.
A loss could be disaster. In the very worst case scenario (an admittedly unlikely one of Mexico losing to Honduras and the USA, and then Panama beating Honduras), El Tri could wake up in fifth place on Wednesday morning, wondering where it all went wrong and looking anxiously at the next Hex fixture away to a Panamanian side that's handed it defeat twice already this summer on neutral ground and earned a scoreless draw in the Azteca.
It's not completely hopeless for Mexico, however. Apart from the two losses to Panama, Mexico's results have been somewhat encouraging. A final group stage game in the Confederations Cup saw a 2-1 win over Japan, while the Gold Cup had wins against Canada, Martinique and Trinidad. A recent friendly against the Ivory Coast was the most impressive display Mexico has put on in some time, with Giovanni dos Santo and Oribe Peralta spearheading a convincing 4-1 win over the Africans.
History is on Mexico's side as well. Honduras has never won at the the Azteca, and hasn't beaten Mexico in any competition since 2009. And Mexico, of course, has qualified for every World Cup in the last 20 years.