An experimental Mexico side were forced to work hard for a 1-0 victory against a defensively-organised Panama in Toluca.
Mexico entered the game on the back of a 3-2 extra-time victory over USA in a 2017 Confederations Cup play-off, whilst their opponents arrived winless in normal time in their previous 12 fixtures.
Real Sociedad attacker Carlos Vela’s goal in first-half stoppage time was the difference maker in the international friendly on Tuesday, with neither side capable of creating obvious openings.
Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo had an early scare after air-kicking Adolfo Machado’s back-pass, forcing him to scramble back and clear under pressure from Raul Jimenez.
But the visitors soon produced the first real chance of the game as Armando Cooper’s low drive was touched around the post with a one-handed stop by Alfredo Talavera.
Mexico appeared the more threatening in the early stages, with Jimenez’s energetic running causing panic amongst the Panama back-five.
After collecting a deep pass towards the by-line, the Benfica striker did well to turn Luis Henriquez but Jonathon dos Santos was unable to reach his raking cross.
Panama began to settle into the contest midway through the first half, with the tight, narrow pitch in Toluca favouring Hernan Gomez’s side.
Predominantly defensive minded, Panama – 65th in the FIFA world rankings – enjoyed a confidence-building period of possession before the interval.
But on the stroke of half-time, Vela finally made the breakthrough for Mexico, stabbing in from close-range.
Javier Guemez’s aimless ball into the box was defended poorly by Leonel Parris and Machado, eventually reaching Javier Aquino on the left by-line.
Aquino immediately centred the ball for Vela to poke into an unguarded net.
Vela almost grabbed his doubled his tally following the interval but his powerful shot between two defenders skewed wide from 20-yards.
There were plenty of changes for either side in the second period, with 2015 Copa America star Jesus Corona on for assist-maker Aquino the key tactical decision from interim coach Ricardo Ferretti – set to be replaced by Juan Carlos Osorio.
With 15 minutes to play, Panama almost snuck an equaliser, as substitute Luis Tejada bent a long-range effort just wide of Mexico’s goal with Talavera at full stretch.
The visitor’s continued to press for an equaliser until the dying moments but once again failed to take advantage of their set=piece opportunities with Cooper and Felipe Baloy unable to convert.
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