Raul Jimenez scored a spectacular goal to remember, perhaps saving Mexico’s World Cup hopes.
Jimenez’s 16-yard bicycle kick in the 85th minute gave Mexico a 2-1 win over Panama on Friday night at Azteca Stadium, a goal that came just four minutes after the visitors had tied the score.
“What a spectacular goal, really beautiful and above all very emotional,” Victor Manuel Vucetich said after his first match as Mexico’s coach.
Languishing in fifth place in North and Central America and the Caribbean qualifying at the start of the night, El Tri went ahead on Oribe Peralta’s goal off a chipped pass from Javier Hernandez in the 40th minute.
Panama, in front of Mexico on total goals coming in, tied the score in the 81st when Luis Tejada beat goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa to a through pass from Gabriel Torres, touched the ball past the keeper and put it into the empty net.
A draw would have left Mexico in a difficult position.
Jimenez, who entered in the 83rd, received a 15-yard pass from Fernando Arce. With his back to the goal, he used his right foot to knock the ball about a dozen feet in the air.
Jimenez made an acrobatic leap, and with his back parallel to the field, about 2 feet from the ground, he used his right foot for an overhead kick to send the ball between and past defenders Harold Cummings and Roman Torres. The ball went just inside the right post of goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, who had no chance to stop it.
“My initial intention was to hit it low, but then I had to improvise going in the air,” Jimenez said. “It was a last- resort type of thing.”
Hernandez had a chance to score in the 58th minute, but Penedo dove to his left to save Chicharito’s penalty kick after Cummings knocked over Javier Aquino.
Mexico (2-2-5), playing under its third coach in three games, improved to 11 points and overtook Panama (1-3-5) for fourth place in the final round of qualifying for North and Central America and the Caribbean.
The U.S. (6-2-1) and Costa Rica (4-2-3) already have clinched berths, and Honduras (4-3-2) is third with 14 points and on track for the region’s final automatic berth. The fourth-place finisher meets Oceania champion New Zealand in a home-and-home playoff for a spot in the 32-nation field in Brazil next year.
Mexico closes at Costa Rica on Tuesday night, when Panama hosts the U.S. and Honduras is at last-place Jamaica (0-5-4) in matches scheduled to start simultaneously.
“We haven’t accomplished anything,” Vucetich said. “We need to win the next match to get to the playoff.”
Vucetich made several changes, putting Ochoa in goal in place of Jesus Corona, Ochoa’s first qualifying appearance since March.
Rafa Marquez, the 34-year-old defender and midfielder who used to captain the team, started in his first international appearance since February 2012.