The CONCACAF region has had an increase in talent on the football pitch over last two decades. In the early 2000’s the only major players from the region playing for European clubs were Mexico’s Rafael Marquez who played most of his time with FC Barcelona and Honduras’ David Suazo with Italy’s Internazionale de Milan. Beyond that, it was difficult to find a North American playing for a major club in the “big” leagues.
Nowadays the panorama is different with the major teams in the region having at least one player in a major European league, or team of importance. This has made life difficult for the once reigning king of the CONCACAF region, Mexico. Despite the superiority demonstrated by El Tri over the years, the Central American nations have always played their hearts out when facing Mexico.
“There are no ‘friendlies’ against Central American teams,” Mexican National Team Coach Miguel “Piojo” Herrera said to ESPN Deportes while preparing for the game against Panama. “The games against the teams in our region are very important because I emphasize, there is not much to gain, but a lot to lose.”
The evidence that the teams have grown was present when Mexico was forced to compete in a World Cup Qualification playoff against New Zealand to reach Brazil 2014. A final minutes “miracle goal” from Raul Jimenez against Panama gave Mexico the win they needed. El Tri needed a win against Costa Rica to qualify to the playoff directly. Mexico lost that game. But in Panama City, Panama, the USMNT double in the final minutes gave Mexico the pass to the playoff.
This FIFA date, Mexico takes on two of the teams that made life difficult for them prior to reaching Brazil 2014, Honduras and Panama. While many see the teams as small regional squads that don’t fare too well at the international level, the two did well against Mexico during the last WCQ. Honduras defeated Mexico at the Azteca Stadium, only the second such loss Mexico has suffered at the mythical venue.
During this FIFA date Mexico has already defeated Honduras, a 2-0 at the Victor Manuel Reyna Stadium, in Tuxtla-Gutierrez, Mexico. On Sunday, Mexico hosts Panama at La Corregidora Stadium in Queretaro, Mexico. Panama eliminated Mexico in the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup, leaving many players to think they have a “thorn in their side” because of that match.
While the teams that Mexico faces during this FIFA date may not be power players on the world stage, they are teams that have grown and will need to get through to reach Russia 2018.