A long and disappointing CONCACAF qualifying campaign for Mexico comes down to this: one match where a point puts them through to a play-off against New Zealand and a loss makes them the world's biggest United States fans. Who would have ever guessed El Tri would find themselves here?
Raul Jimenez's remarkable match-winner on Friday put Mexico into fourth place in the Hex, but the job still isn't done. They still need a point in Costa Rica because barring a seven-goal thriller, Mexico will be eliminated if they lose and Panama wins. That means an El Tri loss will force them to root for the U.S., of all teams, and pray that their bitter rivals can upend Panama and deliver them fourth place.
But before Mexico can consider what it would be like to root for the U.S., they have a Costa Rica side to handle that could make all pro-American feelings irrelevant. Unfortunately for them, it won't be easy. The Ticos may have already qualified for the World Cup, but they consider El Tri among their biggest rivals and have a full strength squad and sold out stadium waiting for Mexico in San Jose. They want to take a Mexican scalp to Brazil.
Victor Manuel Vucetich has given the Mexicans a boost since taking over for the much maligned Jose Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre, but had Jimenez not scored the goal of his life, El Tri were still on their way to another home draw that would have put Panama in the driver's seat for fourth place. Mexico, while improved in the table, were oly marginally better on the field and that won't be nearly good enough against the Ticos.
Jimenez has been favored to start in Costa Rica after his fabulous winner, but that would require benching the red got Oribe Peralta or the face of the team, Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez. Of course, playing Jimenez with the two strikers is always an option, but he is awkward on the wing and Vucetich has long favored a two-man frontline.
All Mexican eyes will be on Vucetich once again.
All eyes will also be on Mexico as a whole, and not just inside the country. All of CONCACAF will be watching to see if El Tri can stave off an embarrassing elimination and at least qualify for the play-off, where common sense dictates that they will beat New Zealand to qualify for Brazil.
Then again, Mexico and common sense don't go together much anymore. Who knows, maybe they will win and Honduras will lose, catapulting El Tri into an improbable third place Hex finish that keeps them out of the play-off and sends them straight to the World Cup.
At this point, nothing Mexico does can surprise anyone. Unless Jimenez has another bicycle match-winner in him. That is still worth a slack jaw and a healthy dose of awe.
Match Date/Time: Tuesday, October 15; 9:30 p.m. ET
Venue: Estadio Nacional, San Jose, Costa Rica
TV: Telemundo (U.S.)