CARSON, Calif. -- Erick Torres scored one minute into stoppage time, and Mexico beat Panama 1-0 on Tuesday night to win its group in Olympic qualifying and get within a win of London.
Mexico locked down the top spot in Group B by outscoring its opponents 11-1 over three matches. El Tri now will take on Group A runner-up Canada on Saturday at Livestrong Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan., with a ticket to London on the line.
"It's a good team, they have good players and they're very physically strong," California-born fullback Miguel Angel Ponce said of the Canadians. "We're going to have to play one-two touches so we can make dangerous chances."
With qualification assured after consecutive victories against Trinidad and Tobago and Honduras, Mexico had stars Marco Fabian and Alan Pulido, who accounted for six goals in the opening two matches, on the bench at the start.
Although Panama was eliminated from semifinal contention earlier by Honduras' victory over Trinidad and Tobago, it got off to a strong start, forcing Mexican goalkeeper Liboro Sanchez to make several stops, including a pair of key saves in the 15th minute.
With Los Canaleros dominating possession, Mexico had its best opportunity in the 40th minute when a cross in the box left Javier Cortes alone on Panama's goalkeeper, but Cortes fired a shot into Luis Mejia's chest and he scooped up the rebound.
"We couldn't expect a good game because our players hadn't played together," Mexico coach Luis Fernando Tena said. "Panama played very well, they worked hard and came out playing, and it was hard for us to get going."
Mexico's offense continued to struggle in the second half, forcing Tena to bring on Fabian in hopes of creating an attack. The move gave El Tri more punch, but the Mexicans continued to struggle against Panama's tenacious defense.
El Tri finally broke through in the first minute of stoppage time when Cortes fired a cross that Jeronimo Amione played to Torres, who had only the goalkeeper in front of him and scored easily.
Although Mexico rolled through group play, Tena said his squad is not taking opponents lightly in a bid for El Tri's first Olympic berth since 2004.
"I'm worried of course about Canada; we're not overconfident in the least and we have to be alert. There's a reason that Canada beat the United States, and I think that speaks well," Tena said. "Their players have a good attitude and they showed their level; we're going to see their same thing."