A stunning late goal from Raul Jimenez gave Mexico a vital win as El Tri chases a spot in Brazil next summer.With a new coach in charge after a disastrous start to the Hexagonal stage of World Cup qualifying, it took a dream shot for Mexico to keep its World Cup hopes alive.
After watching Panama tie the game late in the second half, deflating an El Tri side that entered the match in a must-win situation for a shot at the World Cup, Raul Jimenez drilled a beautiful bicycle kick in the 86th minute for a thrilling 2-1 victory at Estadio Azteca on Friday night.
Oribe Peralta had the night's first goal in the 40th minute and Panama responded late in the second half thanks to Luis Tejada. But the soccer Gods were surely on coach Victor Manuel Vucetich's side as Mexico moved into fourth place in the Hexagonal standings with one game left to play.
The top three teams are guaranteed a spot next summer in Brazil while the fourth-place finisher will face Oceania champion New Zealand in a playoff next month. If the standings remain the same following Tuesday's matches, El Tri will travel to New Zealand for the first of two matches.
Panama drops to fifth place while Jamaica is last following a loss to the United States, which sits in first followed by Costa Rica and Honduras.
Rafa Marquez, who spent a couple of season in MLS with the New York Red Bulls, returned to the Mexican national team for the first time since 2012 and was named captain. He had fallen out of favor under De la Torre but Vucetich recalled the 34-year-old center back for the most crucial match of the year.
Goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa also returned to the team after a lengthy layoff. Reportedly refusing to join the squad if he wasn't guaranteed a starting a spot under De la Torre, he found himself on the outside looking in with Jesus Corona manning the posts.
Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez, who is now widely considered as the face of El Tri, was also in the starting lineup. On the front line alongside Peralta, Mexico set an attacking tone to the game from the start.
In just the seventh minute, Chicharito made his presence felt when he received the ball at the six-yard box and had it deflected over the crossbar. A few moments later, the Manchester United striker had a clear opportunity to put El Tri ahead but was called offside.
Later in the half, after several missed opportunities - including a rocket from Javier Aquino that was nicely saved by Jaime Penedo in the 46th minute - the forward pairing worked together to ease the tension in Mexico City. In the 40th minute, Chicharito found Peralta in the box where he managed to collect and hammer home the game's opening goal.
Mexico dominated possession in the first half, holding the ball for 70 percent of the time and taking six more shots than the visitors. El Tri entered the half with a much-needed cushion to keep its World Cup hopes alive with 135 minutes remaining in its Hexagonal run to determine its fate for the next four years.
With some of the weight off their shoulders, the Mexican players and their fans began the second half with a new attitude - the crowd was on its feet and the body language from the squad was different than we had seen so far in 2013, a year in which El Tri has only won once in qualifying and picked up three scoreless draws at home.
But the second half had a shaky start for El Tri, with Panama playing with the same sense of urgency Mexico had in the first half. And things only got better for the Central Americans as time went on.
After Harold Cummings took down Aquino in the box for a Mexico penalty kick in the 58th minute, Chicharito missed the spot kick. Chicharito, perhaps CONCACAF's most deadly offensive player, went to the right and Penedo read the play perfectly to keep things interesting.
With Panama no longer sitting back, the match went back and forth with both teams providing scares. And things couldn't get more frightening for Mexico in the 81st minute when Tejada found himself behind the hosts' back line and beat Ochoa to the left.
But El Tri wouldn't give up there.
Just when it seemed all was lost for a stunned Mexico, Jimenez left all Mexicans believing in miracles as he clipped a ball up in the box and went upside down to put the it past the keeper. It took a second for everyone to believe what they had just seen.
And Mexico now believes a World Cup bid is possible.