Panama brought three big points back from Honduras, staking an early claim to the fourth-place-in-the-Hex prize that is assumed to be the best any team not named USA, Mexico or Costa Rica can hope for in this competition. Fourth would be a fine finish, since it will bring an opportunity to win a place at Russia 2018 via a playoff against the fifth-best team emerging from Asia's World Cup qualifying tournament.
But Los Canaleros could establish themselves as contenders for a top-three place in this Hex - and an automatic place at the next World Cup - if they can start to gather points from games against the heavyweight teams in the tournament. Even a point against Mexico would be a boost to that cause; a win would be an upset to place alongside the surprising result attained in Honduras.
Panama's Hex hopes can survive losing to Mexico in this match. El Tri just staged its own unexpected away-win, snatching three points off USMNT in Columbus. If Mexico can win in Ohio, it can win in Panama City.
El Tri has had to let a few key players leave the team that beat USMNT, though there should be ample depth on the roster to compensate. So much so, in fact, that close observers of the team expect to see much more substantial changes to the lineup than those merely necessary to cover known absences. Carlos Vela, Andres Guardado, and Carlos Salcedo are all unavailable. For ESPN FC, Tom Marshall predicts the combination of Panama's sticky heat and head coach Juan Carlos Osorio's predilection for squad rotation will see rests for Rafa Marquez, Javier Hernandez, Alfredo Talavera, Jesus Corona, and Hector Herrera.
Panama is not likely to experiment so freely with its squad depth, but will have to cope without Felipe Baloy and Armando Cooper.
Mexico is the favorite to win this match, but Panama's performance will be watch closely for signs that Los Canaleros may prove capable of challenging CONCACAF's established order.
If Panama can do enough to suggest it does have the ability to challenge the region's big three, then this Hex will be a little more interesting than previously imagined.
Per livesoccertv.com, here's where to find the match: