[HEXAGONAL COUNTDOWN]Panama has already beaten Mexico twice this year and will look to make it three in a row when the Canaleros face El Tri Friday at Azteca Stadium.
And Panama coach Julio Dely Valdes isn't afraid to point out the desperate position El Tri finds itself following its loss at home to Honduras and the United States last month.
Dely Valdes said that he and his coaches had been joking they weren't sure whether they'd be playing the Mexico or Argentine national anthem before Friday's game -- a reference to the addition of three naturalized Argentines: Lucas Lobos, Christian Gimenez and Damian Alvarez.
"It's an indication of just how things are truly grave that Mexico has to resort to call in Argentine players," Dely Valdes said.
He acknowledged that Mexico will be favored Friday, but he had faith in his players.
"History is on Mexico's side," he said, "but once referee blows the whistle, it is another story and we have to think we have a good chance of getting points because we believe in ourselves and in our abilities."
Panama twice beat Mexico 2-1 at the Gold Cup to reach the final, where it lost to the USA, 1-0. Panama and Mexico played to a 0-0 tie in their World Cup qualifier in Panama City.
Panama and Mexico are tied with eight points, three behind third-place Honduras. The teams are even on goal difference (7-9 and 4-6), and Canaleros hold the edge in the second tiebreaker, goals scored.
The Canaleros have taken a page out of the Honduras playbook and set up training camp in South Florida with plans to arrive in Mexico City on the eve of the game. Honduras became only the second team to ever beat Mexico in qualifying at Azteca Stadium when it won, 2-1, in September, prompting the firing of national team coach Jose Manuel de la Torre.
After they play Friday night in Mexico, City, Mexico heads to Costa Rica to face the Ticos, while Panama returns home to host the USA at the Estadio Rommel Fernandez.
Panama and Mexico are right now playing for fourth place and a berth in the intercontinental playoffs against New Zealand next month. They only have a chance of snatching the third Concacaf automatic berth from Honduras, which closes against Costa Rica and Jamaica, if the Catrachos slip up in their final two games.