‘Tecatito’ helps El Tri salvage point on road in Panama

Jesús Corona (#17) watches as his 76th-minute shot finds its way into the net. El Tri escaped Panama City with a hard-earned draw. (Photo by ROGELIO FIGUEROA/AFP via Getty Images)
Jesús Corona (#17) watches as his 76th-minute shot finds its way into the net. El Tri escaped Panama City with a hard-earned draw. (Photo by ROGELIO FIGUEROA/AFP via Getty Images) /
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El Tri Panama report
Mexico fell behind in minute 28 when Panama’s Rolando Blackburn knocked home a rebound left by Guillermo Ochoa. (Photo by LUIS ACOSTA/AFP via Getty Images) /

El Tri escaped Panama City’s Estadio Rommel Fernández with a valuable point despite a ragged performance that had Mexico fans wondering: “We could have won that game, maybe we should have won; but we didn’t really deserve to win, did we?”

The 1-1 result leaves El Tri atop the Concacaf World Cup qualifying table after the first round of games, its 7 points placing it 2 points clear of second-place Panama, United States and Canada. Costa Rica, Honduras and El Salvador follow with 2 points; Jamaica is in the cellar with a single point.

Panama drew first blood, Rolando Blackburn poking home a rebound from close range in minute 28. The hosts looked confident throughout the first half, enjoying 52% possession and generating chances on swift counterattacks.

Jesús Corona cracked home the equalizer off a scramble inside the box with a quarter-hour to spare, and El Tri spent the remainder of the game chasing the winner while never managing to get a clear look at goal.

Will missed opportunities haunt El Tri?

After an uninspired first 45 minutes, Mexico tilted the field in its favor during the second half, making better use of its time on the ball. Still, errant passes and miscommunication foiled too many possessions, several leading to fast breaks in the opposite direction.

El Tri also turned the ball over with frustrating regularity, whether it was Corona overdribbling, Jorge Sánchez getting sloppy, Néstor Araujo making poor decisions or any number of culprits.

Still, Mexico’s grit and tenacity took over early in the second half, providing the sensation that a tying goal was inevitable. Andrés Guardado, Henry Martín and Sebastián Córdova came on before the restart and all three made solid contributions.

In minute 55, Martín nodded a cross into the box down to Romo who got off a low volley that was parried aside by Panama keeper Luis Mejía.

In minute 69, Córdova stepped into a laid-off pass from Martín and fired a low, dipping shot that required a fantastic save from Mejía.

Six minutes later, El Tri started a move forward, probing and pulling back, patiently looking for an opening. Guardado and Jesús Gallardo exchanged passes wide left, pulling the Panama defense away from the box.

As they yo-yoed the ball wide left, Gallardo chased down another touch pass from Guardado, feinted then pushed the ball back to Guardado who one-timed a lofted cross to the back side. The pass was knocked to the ground at the top of the box where Córdova volleyed a bouncer that clanged off the left post, ricocheting past an onrushing Martín. Luis Romo rushed toward the bouncing ball, but backed off when he saw Corona had a better angle and “Tecatito” buried it inside the right post.

Suddenly it was 1-1 and momentum was on El Tri’s side. The chance to maintain its perfect start seemed within Mexico’s grasp. But it was not to be.

During the final 45 minutes, El Tri fired seven shots, three of which were on target. The team managed only a single shot on goal in the first half.