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El Tri coach refines starters

Even as El Tri gets ready for its crucial World Cup qualifier vs. Panama on Friday with new coach Victor Manuel Vucetich at the reins, Manchester United striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez said the team is the same as it ever was.

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“We are training this week as we have for all of our matches,” said Hernandez, who hasn’t scored a goal in any of these qualifiers. “We know that we have to win on Friday and that is what we are putting into practice at all our training sessions, trying to see what we are going to do to win.”

Mexico, which sits in fifth place in 2014 CONCACAF World Cup Hexagonal qualifying, must do something different and win Friday when it hosts Panama at Estadio Azteca.

The top three finishers in the 2014 CONCACAF World Cup Hexagonal qualify outright for Brazil. The fourth-place finisher earns a chance to qualify via a playoff against New Zealand. Mexico has a shot at that fourth place if it can win Friday and again on Oct. 15 vs. Costa Rica.

Vucetich, Mexico’s third coach in three matches, was the picture of calm during a news conference Tuesday night and said he has just about finished picking his lineup.

“I’m considering everyone as I make my decision,” he said.

“Experience is a factor but they should be at top fitness so they can respond. My lineup is 80-90 percent done. Absences are part of the job. Having all the elements is important but we have a team that can make up for any absence.”

Vucetich did not specify whether the European league players had guaranteed spots on the team and stressed that the Mexican league players had been training well together in these past weeks.

“The case for those who have been working together is that they have been practically 10 days together. The case for those who have come from outside is that we will see whether they can have some effect. We will look for a way that all can participate,” he said.

Mexico has scored only four goals in the CONCACAF finals this year. Before losing to Honduras at home last month, Mexico was unbeaten in 27 straight home qualifiers and in 18 straight qualifiers at Estadio Azteca.

El Tri has qualified for five straight World Cups, last missing out in 1990, when the team was banned from qualifying for using ineligible players in a junior tournament. The last time Mexico participated in qualifying and did not reach the World Cup was 1982.

Mexico’s current four-game qualifying winless streak matches its worst ever in World Cup qualifying.

Mexico has won both of its previous home games against Panama by combined 12-1 score. For Mexico to qualify outright, El Tri needs to win both its upcoming matches and Honduras needs to finish with fewer than 2 points in its upcoming two matches (vs. Costa Rica and Jamaica).

Information from The Associated Press and ESPN Stats & Info was used in this report.

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