After Jimenez's wonder goal: one down, three to go

Posted by Eric Gomez

MEXICO CITY -- Every last bit of the Estadio Azteca lost its composure. Those of us sent to do a job in the wake of the heavy early evening rain, the standstill traffic, the hordes of nervous, hopeful fans whose allegiance could shift one way or another and, yes, the stresses over shaky Wi-Fi were rewarded when Raul Jimenez bicycle-kicked his way into Mexico lore.

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However spectacular, it couldn't have been at all satisfying for the group of Panama fans and journalists who made the trek from the canal in a bid to witness history. All the Marea Roja had to do was coax a point out of the Estadio Azteca, something the last four teams had accomplished since February, and thus remain in control of their destiny on their quest to Brazil 2014.

That seemed very possible, very late into the match. Luis Tejada whipped his way past a diving Guillermo Ochoa and tucked a close-range shot into the net less than a couple of yards out, silencing the Azteca crowd 10 minutes from the final whistle. Moments later, Jimenez would channel Hugo Sanchez and put Mexico back in the driver's seat.

"I don't know if I'll be able to sleep tonight," said a smiling Jimenez after the match. Sheepish but trying to keep his composure, Jimenez recalled the goal in uncertain terms, quite unable to put his joy into words. "It was, I don't know -- I practice this all the time. When I saw the ball come my way, I just hit it. It was natural."

Not far from Jimenez and amid the group of reporters was Javier Hernandez, who continued his woes by missing a crucial penalty kick that could have put the game to bed early.

"We all won tonight, but the hero is Raul for that genius bit of skill," said the Manchester United striker. "At the end [I cried] because of the sheer emotion of it all. This process has been complicated."

Before answering a series of questions about his own performance, Hernandez made the best point of the night, one that, while sobering, was something the team could not push out of its mind even with the euphoria of victory upon it.

"Nothing is set," Hernandez said. "We have to go to Costa Rica and win. There's a slight chance we get in directly [to the 2014 World Cup]."

"Slight chance" aside, the more real scenario is that Mexico will need to play one more game at the Estadio Azteca and then travel nearly 7,000 miles to New Zealand to try to become the fourth CONCACAF team to qualify for next year's competition. All Mexico did by defeating Panama was extend its time and give itself three more chances instead of one.

Now, a team that has been able to win only twice in nine tries (and only once at home) will be pushed to turn one win into a four-game winning streak en route to Brazil. Victor Manuel Vucetich, the team's new manager, was decidedly more cautious amid the celebration.

"This victory makes me calm. We lacked coordination out there, but we'll keep improving," he said.

"We still need to win the next game to receive the opportunity to qualify for the playoff [against New Zealand]," he continued, refusing to waver from his belief that this was just an important first step. And he's perfectly right.

A night capped off with spectacle should offer the Mexican fans a glimmer of hope -- after a year of absolute disappointment -- not the idea that their team is suddenly back from the brink, ready to replicate form achieved under a manager who is no longer with the team. Vucetich intends to steer Mexico into port whichever way possible, be it by getting the job done in one match or three.

No one in a right mind should expect just the one.


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