Mexico Qualifies for 2018 World Cup with Win Over Panama
This time around, San Zusi wasn't required.
Mexico capped a stellar run in the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying Hexagonal by punching its official ticket for Russia 2018 with a 1-0 win over Panama at Estadio Azteca Friday night. Hirving Lozano's goal in the 53rd minute was the difference on the night and sends Mexico to a seventh straight World Cup.
The result, coupled with Honduras's 2-1 win in Trinidad & Tobago and the USA's 2-0 loss to Costa Rica, cemented Mexico's World Cup berth and clinched a top-three finish in CONCACAF's table. The top three teams automatically qualify, while the fourth-place team goes into an intercontinental playoff against an Asian opponent. With Honduras and the USA level on eight points in third place, and both unable to overtake Mexico given their upcoming head-to-head matchup and the amount of games remaining after, El Tri is through to Russia.
Mexico has been utterly dominant in the Hex, starting with breaking its curse in Columbus and beating the United States 2-1 last November. Since then, it's been a romp, with Mexico going unbeaten in seven qualifiers in the round and achieving its goal with three games to spare. Mexico leads the table with 17 points (5-0-2), scoring 10 goals and conceding just twice.
It's a far contrast to qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, which saw Mexico run through four managers in a six-week span and need the USA's help via Graham Zusi's dramatic goal vs. Panama in the final qualifier just to reach an intercontinental playoff against New Zealand.
Mexico joins host Russia, Brazil, Iran and Japan as nations to secure their places on the 32-team grand stage.
Mexico and manager Juan Carlos Osorio will turn their focus to crafting a team that can get over the round-of-16 hump at the World Cup. El Tri has been bounced in that round in each of the last six World Cups, with the most recent a heartbreaking, controversial defeat to the Netherlands in Brazil.