Mexico 1 Panama 0: Hosts secure World Cup place

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Mexico booked their spot at the 2018 World Cup after a hard-fought 1-0 win against Panama in CONCACAF qualifying on Friday.

Hirving Lozano came off the bench to make the difference at the Estadio Azteca, the substitute's header proving decisive.

Mexico, who looked most dangerous on the counter-attack, were deserved winners against a Panama side who rarely threatened.

The result moved Mexico three points clear atop the group in the fifth round of qualifying, and they are guaranteed a top-three finish and place at Russia 2018.

Mexico became the fifth team to qualify for the showpiece tournament, joining Russia, Brazil, Iran and Japan.

Juan Carlos Osorio served the final match of the ban he picked up at the Confederations Cup, but the coach started a strong XI that included Javier Hernandez and Carlos Vela, while Lozano and Giovani dos Santos began on the bench.

Winless in five qualifiers, Panama desperately needed at least a point away from home.

After torrential rain prior to kick-off, Mexico started well, but stubborn defending by Panama meant chances were hard to create.

The hosts threatened in the 17th minute, Jesus Manuel Corona getting free down the left, but he was unable to find a team-mate with his cross.

Panama had few bright moments in attack, although Guillermo Ochoa did have to make a save from Alberto Quintero, who replaced Erick Davis before the half-hour mark.

The opener appeared to be coming for Mexico, and they went close five minutes before half-time.

Vela played a pass into Hernandez on the left side of the area, but the West Ham forward curled his effort just wide.

The encounter came to life to begin the second half, Ochoa forced into two saves, stopping a 25-yard Ricardo Buitrago free-kick and Quintero effort.

Mexico had a penalty shout turned down in between those chances, but they took a 53rd-minute lead.

Introduced just two minutes earlier, Lozano got on the end of a cross from Corona to head in his fifth international goal.

Mexico pushed for a second, with Panama goalkeeper Jose Calderon making a strong save to keep out a Hector Herrera free-kick in the 69th minute.

Javier Aquino wasted a great chance on the counter-attack moments later, and while Panama had their opportunities, Mexico claimed a deserved win.