NEW YORK (Reuters) - Mexico face the United States in Columbus, Ohio on Tuesday knowing that anything but a victory would seriously compromise their aim of a place in next year’s World Cup finals in Brazil.
While CONCACAF group leaders Costa Rica can secure their place in the finals with a victory in Kingston against bottom-placed Jamaica and the United States, despite their 3-1 loss to Costa Rica on Friday, remain well-placed in second spot, Mexico are becoming increasingly desperate.
After a 2-1 loss at home to Honduras on Friday - just the second time ‘El Tri’ have been defeated at their Azteca Stadium in a World Cup qualifier - coach Jose Manuel ‘Chepo’ de la Torre was fired and replaced by Luis Fernando Tena who coached the national team to the London Olympics title last year.
Mexico have failed to win at the Azteca in four qualifiers and are currently in fourth place in the six-team qualifying group from CONCACAF, leaving them outside the three automatic qualification slots.
With two games remaining after Tuesday’s round of games, Mexico face the real possibility of finishing fourth and being forced into a two-legged playoff with New Zealand for a place in Brazil unless they can start to turn things around with a victory at Crew Stadium.
With little time to make changes in personnel or tactics, Tena said he will not be trying anything revolutionary against Juergen Klinsmann’s Americans.
“We have to face this with complete responsibility,” said Tena, who will be without suspended midfield general Gerardo Torrado.
“We have to prepare ourselves mentally and adapt. The team will maintain the same players and the same fundamentals. In three days, we cannot carry out big changes.”
Mexico, long the top team in CONCACAF, have always qualified since 1982, although they were banned by FIFA from the 1990 World Cup in Italy after fielding over-age players in a youth tournament.
The United States’ 12-game winning run, which spanned July’s title-winning CONCACAF Gold Cup campaign, ended with a comprehensive loss to Costa Rica on Friday and Klinsmann also has to deal with several key absentees.
Striker Jozy Altidore and defenders Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron all picked up yellow cards and are suspended while influential midfielder Michael Bradley has also been ruled out after suffering a left ankle sprain during warmups prior to the start of the match.
Klinsmann has drafted in Houston Dynamo midfielder Brad Davis and San Jose Earthquakes center-half Clarence Goodson along with two players who are with Mexican clubs, Tijuana midfielder Joe Corona and Tigres midfielder Jose Torres.
A win could be enough for the United States to book their flights to Rio, if Honduras get a result at home to Panama on Tuesday, but the manner of their loss to ‘Los Ticos’ will have been a reality check for the Americans.
“Every time this process goes on it’s never easy, it is always unpredictable,” said midfielder Landon Donovan.
“There are a lot of ups and downs. We’ve been on ups recently and now this is a down. We’ll have to see how we recover and see what we’re made of,” he said.
In Kingston, Costa Rica will be without their key playmaker Christian Bolanos and first-choice goalkeeper Keilor Navas, both due to yellow card accumulation. Head coach Jorge Luis Pinto likely to turn to Patrick Pemberton as his replacement.
Honduras, in third place and unbeaten at home, are on a high after their superb win at the Azteca and they are sensing a real chance to reach the finals for just the third time.
But Panama, despite the disappointment of their goalless draw at home to 10-man Jamaica on Friday, will be a tough nut to crack even without suspended defender Roman Torres.
Editing by John Mehaffey