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Little drama for United States in Friday’s World Cup qualifier … but would you look at Mexico!

Oct 9, 2013, 5:40 PM EDT

Jermaine Jones

Friday’s World Cup qualifier in Kansas City will come and go with plenty of conversation opportunities for Jurgen Klinsmann’s national team – but with all the drama of a PBS news hour.

On the other hand, can we talk about Mexico? Our neighbors to the south are in a real Brazilian pickle. They are in more trouble than Alex Rodriguez strapped into a lie detector seat, their World Cup hopes in more dire jeopardy of extinction than a moment of sanity in Washington, D.C.

The real drama during Friday’s round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers will be at Azteca Stadium, the former smoggy fortress where Mexico has yet to win a match in final round qualifying for Brazil 2014. Scoreless ties against the Jamaica, the United States and Costa Rica may have left Mexico’s bid on the skids … but they started looking positively bountiful once El Tri lost in Mexico City last month, 2-1 to Honduras.

Soon enough, Chepo De La Torre was out and Victor Manuel Vucetich was tasked with pulling this rickety old van out of the ditch. So here it is: if Vucetich’s team cannot beat Panama this Friday at what promises to be a very nervous Estadio Azteca, that just might be it. They could miss the World Cup for the first time since 1990 (when player eligibility shenanigans saw Mexico booted from World Cup qualifying efforts).

It’s not going to be easy. Panama hasn’t been what we all thought in the final round. But any team with real defensive commitment (check) and a determined, talented, bulldog of a goal scorer (check … Blas Perez) has a chance. The Panamanians most definitely have a chance to navigate a draw, and then go hunting for the final, telling points in the finale in Central America against the United States. (Make that, “injured and potentially less motivated” United States.)

(MORE: Why you might WANT Mexico at the World Cup)

Panama will certainly dig in Friday at Estadio Azteca, looking to create through Perez on the counter and on restarts, and they will be awfully tough to beat.

Veteran goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa says it can be done, noting a freshness and a “new vibe” thanks to the recent managerial comeuppance. Here is his interview with FIFA.com.

To get you further up to speed on the Mexican pinch – should we coin something like the “Mexican Mess?” Or perhaps go with “El Tri Trauma?” … Gee, this is rather fun, isn’t it? – here is Kyle McCarthy’s swell analysis on the roster choices ahead for the qualifiers Friday and then next week at Costa Rica.

(MORE: The tantalizing scenario developing between U.S., Mexico)

Remember, by the way, Mexico is probably targeting noting better than fourth place; the United States and Costa Rica have qualified, and Honduras has a much better pathway to the third and final automatic berth for Brazil out of CONCACAF. That leaves Mexico and Panama to fight it out for fourth and the playoff series with New Zealand in November.

I still contend that the World Cup is better with Mexico in it. And I still fear for the CONCACAF allotment at future World Cups if El Tri doesn’t scrap its way to Brazil. That said, it’s a real hoot watching all this unfold, eh?

(MORE: New Zealand hedging on Mexico finishing fourth in CONCACAF qualifying)

Here are the current CONCACAF final round standings:

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