Team Mexico sleepwalks to 3-1 win over Panama

Carlos Salcedo (left) and Roberto Alvarado celebrate after Mexico took a 1-0 lead on a goal by Alvarado. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)
Carlos Salcedo (left) and Roberto Alvarado celebrate after Mexico took a 1-0 lead on a goal by Alvarado. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images) /

El Tri took command of Group B with an unconvincing win over Panama in the Concacaf Nations League.

El Tri offered another uninspired performance but it was enough for a 3-1 victory over Panama in “Tata” Martino’s debut in Estadio Azteca. With the win, Mexico moved to the top of its Nations League group with 6 points. Panama and Bermuda follow with 3 points each.

Roberto “Piojo” Alvarado, J.J. Macías and Rodolfo Pizarro were the goal scorers but the go-ahead goal didn’t come until minute 75 and Pizarro’s clincher came in minute 90+2.

Mexico beats Panama
José Juan Macías reacts after scoring Mexico’s go-ahead goal against Panama. J.J. now has four goals in three games with the senior national team. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images) /

The game was tied at the half although Mexico enjoyed by far the better chances. Dominating possession, El Tri probed the Panama defense finding space on the flanks. Errant centering passes and sloppy ballhandling frustrated Mexico’s offensive thrusts.

Chucky Lozano – playing in an unfamiliar central position – seemed a bit out of sorts early on, heavy with his first touch and spoiling possessions. But then, Lozano blasted a shot from distance off the crossbar in minute 27 and Panama’s defense hastily cleared for a Mexico throw-in.

Alvarado started his own scoring play, controlling the ball above the half moon and flicking a pass into the box to Pizarro who attempted a touch pass in return. The pass was short, but “Piojo” recovered it, dribbled left inside the box before scooping a shot inside the left post from 15 meters. It was 1-0 Mexico in minute 28

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El Tri settled into the match then, but started playing carelessly, like it was a cascarita, trying showy passes and fancy dribbles. It looked like Mexico was having fun, but the team was squandering opportunities.

It cost them in minute 42 when Pizarro tried to dribble out of a triple team while in Mexico’s defensive third. He was stripped of the ball, Panama took it deep into the box and the short cross was blocked by Mexico defender Carlos Salcedo. Unfortunately, Salcedo blocked it right into his own net and the score was tied.

Mexico wobbles, but regains equilibrium

El Tri came out from the break without energy, allowing Panama to create a scoring chance early on in the second half but goalie Raúl Gudiño made a solid save. In minute 49, Alvarado made a nice pass to Chucky as he raced into the box but again Lozano was heavy with his first touch and the ball was cleared.

Shortly thereafter, Alvarado had a bad turnover in Mexico’s half but Gudiño was in position to deny Panama the go-ahead goal. Minutes later, defender Néstor Araujo was beaten when he chased a play but the resulting shot was weak, no problem for Gudiño.

Finally, Martino turned to his bench, bringing in Sebastián Córdova (for Erick Aguirre) in minute 62. Three minutes later, Chucky was carted off and Macías came on.

Mexico defeats Panama
Hirving “Chucky” Lozano of screams in pain after his ankle was stepped on during Tuesday night’s game against Panama. He left the game minutes later. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images) /

Araujo committed another defensive error, this time inside the box, but the Panama forward whiffed on his shot attempt.

Finally, El Tri seemed to snap to attention. Right back Alan Mozo twice got deep inside the Panama box, but both times his centering pass was blocked. In minute 75, Pizarro started a play on the left wing and, tic-tac-toe, Mexico was in the lead 2-1. Pizarro fed Alvarado above the half moon and “Piojo” one-touched a pass to Macías in the left channel. The teen scoring sensation gathered in the pass, touched it forward and fired a right-footer past a helpless Luis Mejía. The goal was J.J’s fourth in three games with the senior team.

Another Araujo giveaway led to a Panama counterattack but Héctor Herrera covered up for Araujo who had failed to get back after his turnover. Pizarro made a nice mazy run toward the box but Macías’ return pass was poor.

El Tri scored the clincher on a sloppy, though opportunistic, play. Carlos Rodríguez made a lovely turn to escape a double team, fed Macías above the box, but he mishandled before knocking the ball loose to sub Uriel Antuna who was unmarked at the edge of the box. But Antuna fumbled his trap, but hustled to recover and blocked the clearance right into the path of Pizarro was chasing into the box. Pizarro one-timed a shot into the right side of the net and the final score looked respectable.

Mexico beats Panama
Gerardo Martino gestures during El Tri’s match against Panama in Estadio Azteca. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images) /

Notes: The game was Martino’s 15th in charge of El Tri but his first in Estadio Azteca. “Tata” was the fifth straight Mexico coach to win his debut in Azteca, following on the heels of Juan Carlos Osorio (3-0 over El Salvador in a World Cup qualifier in 2015), Miguel Herrera (5-1 over New Zealand in a World Cup play-in match in 2013); Víctor Manuel Vucetich (2-1 over Panama in a World Cup qualifier in 2013) and José Manuel Chepo de la Torre (3-1 over Guyana in a qualifier in 2012). “Tata” is now 13-1-1 as coach of El Tri, with a 42-16 goal differential.

J.J. Macías played his first game with the senior national team on Oct. 2, scoring against Trinidad and Tobago in a friendly. J.J. scored twice in Mexico’s Nations League opener against Bermuda, then scored 10 minutes after coming on against Panama. He is averaging a goal every 47.5 minutes for El Tri.

Mexico’s next games are also Nations League matches. El Tri plays in Panama on Nov. 15 and at home (in Toluca) against Bermuda on Nov. 19.

With strict, new FIFA rules regarding offensive chants from the stands in effect, the fans in Estadio Azteca behaved admirably. The crude cheer that has come to epitomize Team Mexico games was inaudible throughout the match.