For all the talk about Mexico's struggles and the danger they are in of not qualifying for the World Cup, there is another team in the same position - Panama. And coincidentally, the Canaleros happen to play El Tri on Friday as the two battle for fourth place and a play-off for a spot in Brazil.
Amazing to think there is another team in this too, isn't it?
Of course the talk has been about Mexico, with their freefall captivating CONCACAF, but Panama have quite the story of their own, and a much happier one. The tiny Central American country has never qualified for the World Cup, but with old hands Blas Perez and Felipe Baloy leading a talented group of younger players like Gabriel Torres, Alberto Quintero and Roberto Chen, Panama are nearing a berth in Brazil.
Panama and Mexico head into Friday's clash at the Azteca level on points and goal difference, but while the home turf may be appear to be an advantage for El Tri, it hasn't been this year. They have yet to win at the Azteca in the Hex, opening the door for Panama to steal a point or even three.
If Panama can win on Friday, they will head into Tuesday's Hex finale three points up and needing just a home draw against a U.S. team that has already qualified to clinch fourth place. Even a draw may not be too bad for Panama considering their last match is at home, while Mexico will be away to Costa Rica, a team that has already qualified as well, but who consider El Tri among their fiercest rivals and will be dying to bury on the final day.
For Mexico, it is one final match at the Azteca, their once-vaunted home turned house of horrors. They need three points or their plans for Brazil may be all for naught. But while their failure to qualify would be disaster, Panama's qualification would be among the happiest days in the country's sporting history. They are two countries heading in different directions, and after Friday night, that could be doubly true.
Match date/time: Friday, 9:30 p.m. ET
Venue: Estadio Azteca, Mexico City, Mexico
TV: Univision Deportes (U.S. - Spanish), ESPN News (U.S. - English)
Online: UniMas (U.S. - Spanish), Watch ESPN (U.S. - English)