By FRANCO PANIZO
Heading into the seventh round of the final stage of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, Mexico is still in search of its first win at home.
El Tri will aim to pick up those all-too-elusive three points at Estadio Azteca and ease some of the mounting pressure on head coach Jose ‘Chepo’ de la Torre on Friday night when they host Honduras in a battle of the third- and fourth-placed teams in the Hexagonal.
Mexico, currently with eight points, is coming off an impressive 4-1 rout of Ivory Coast in August and will surely look back at that performance as a way to inspire confidence heading into their battle with a Honduras team, on seven points, that has not conceded in their last two matches. That is especially the case for El Tri given that they have been held scoreless in four of the six games they have played in this round of qualifying, including all three of their home fixtures.
Given Mexico’s struggles, Honduras could be tempted to try and attack from the opening whistle. The Catrachos have most of their key offensive weapons at their disposal, including Carlo Costly and Roger Espinoza, and they also have enough defensively to cope with the likes of Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez, Giovani Dos Santos and the in-form Oribe Peralta.
The last time Mexico and Honduras met, they settled for a 2-2 tie back in San Pedro Sula in March. Given their positions in the standings at this late juncture, it is likely that another open game will take place at Estadio Azteca as the two teams attempt to bring the 2014 World Cup picture into better focus.
In the other CONCACAF qualifier not involving the U.S. Men’s National Team, Panama will look to avoid a massive upset at home against a winless Jamaica side that recently underwent a coaching change. The Canaleros need a victory to try and climb back into one of the top four spots in the Hexagonal, so they will surely attempt to come out firing from the onset at Estadio Rommel Fernandez in Panama City.
Blas Perez will lead the way for Panama, who has six points, in a game that should see several other MLS-based players on the field and boasts an intriguing goalkeeping duel. Jaime Penedo of the LA Galaxy is all but certain to man the pipes for Panama while the Portland Timbers’ Donovan Ricketts should get the nod for the Reggae Boyz, and which of the two delivers the better performance could go a long way in determining the outcome of the match.
For Jamaica, it’s do-or-die time. A win is needed to try and salvage any lingering World Cup hope that the Caribbean nation might have after earning just two points through six games, so anything less than a victory in Panama would essentially seal the Reggae Boyz’s fate with three matches remaining.
Who do you see winning these CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers? Think Mexico will struggle at home again? Do you give Jamaica any real shot at knocking off Panama on the road?
Share your thoughts below.