Mexico are almost certain to be the All Whites' World Cup playoff opponents next month following a 2-1 win over Panama today.
With just one round of matches remaining in the North and Central American (CONCACAF) region's qualifying process for next year's World Cup in Brazil, Mexico have moved into fourth position which will move them into the two-leg, winner-takes-all qualification playoff against the All Whites.
Oribe Peralta put the Mexicans ahead in the 40th minute but there was a ray of light for New Zealand fans when Panama equalised through Luis Tejada nine minutes from time.
A 1-1 draw would have given Panama, who entered the game in the coveted fourth spot ahead of Mexico, a much better chance of facing New Zealand - and on paper at least, given the All Whites a much better chance of qualifying for the World Cup.
But with Kiwi coach Ricki Herbert in the stands on a reconnaissance mission, Raul Jimenez popped-up with a spectacular overhead kick five minutes from the whistle to give the Mexicans the win.
With a three-point buffer between Mexico and fifth-placed Panama, a win or draw against Costa Rica in four days will guarantee their date with New Zealand.
Defeat to Costa Rica, who have already qualified for Brazil 2014, could still see Mexico through, providing Panama don't beat CONCACAF champions USA on the same day and don't also surpass Mexico's goal difference, which is three goals better better off.
- © Fairfax NZ News