Los Canaleros have won their last two meetings with El Tri, and could put a huge dent in Mexico's World Cup hopes.If Mexico wants to go to the World Cup, friday's match against Panama is a must-win fixture.
El Tri is in fifth place in the Hexagonal, ahead only of winless Jamaica. Panama is ahead of Mexico on virtue of goals scored, having identical records and goal differences. That fourth place represents the last chance saloon for CONCACAF teams, requiring a playoff with New Zealand for a World Cup spot, and Mexico is desperate to have it,
But if there's a team in CONCACAF besides the USA that Mexico fears playing right now, it is Los Canaleros. In 2013, Julio Dely Valdes has led his team to a draw and two wins against the regional heavyweight. The two sides played a goalless draw in Panama City back in June, but it was the Gold Cup where the central American nation really excelled. Facing hugely pro-Mexico crowds in Pasadena and Arlington, Panama earned a pair of 2-1 draws, one in the group stage and the other in the semifinal.
What's more, Mexico's home form has been poor. The once-imposing Estadio Azteca has witnessed four World Cup qualifiers this year. Three - against Jamaica, USA and Costa Rica - ended up scoreless draws. The most recent home match ended in the infamous 2-1 loss to Honduras that finally cost the much-reviled Jose Manuel de la Torre his job.
Mexico's hopes lie now upon the shoulders of newly-appointed head coach Victor Manuel Vucetich. The former Monterrey boss has bought goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa back into the fold, although Carlos Vela's recall remains elusive. He's already made some controversial moves, leaving out Valencia winger Andres Guardado for "tactical reasons" and bringing back veteran defender Rafael Marquez.
Of concern for Mexico fans may be the form of star striker Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez. The Manchester United poacher has seen limited playing time under new manager David Moyes; in United's last five games, he's played just 50 minutes, scoring one goal, and has been an unused substitute three times. Mexico's 2-0 loss to the United States on September 10 was the last time the Chivas product started and finished a full 90 minutes.
Mexico's biggest worry will come in the MLS-based striking duo of Blas Perez and Gabriel Torres. Veteran Perez is enjoying a good year with FC Dallas, and has scored 11 goals in 23 appearances despite playing for a struggling side. Gold Cup top scorer Torres signed for the Colorado Rapids in August, and has helped the cause of one of the league's most in-form teams with a goal and an assist in his first five matches.