Raul Jimenez scored on a spectacular 16-yard bicycle kick in the 85th minute — four minutes after Mexico had allowed a tying goal — and El Tri beat Panama 2-1 Friday night at Azteca Stadium to revive its hopes to qualify for its sixth straight World Cup.
Languishing in fifth place in North and Central America and the Caribbean at the start of the night, Mexico went ahead on Oribe Peralta's goal off a pass from Javier Hernandez in the 40th minute.
Panama, ahead of Mexico on total goals coming in, tied the score in the 81st when Luis Tejada beat goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa to a through pass, touched the ball around the keeper and put it into the empty net.
A draw would have left Mexico in a difficult position.
Jimenez, who entered in the 83rd, then received a cross with his back to the goal, tipped the ball in the air to himself and beat goalkeeper Jaime Penedo with an overhead kick.
Hernandez had a chance to score in the 58th minute, but Penedo saved his penalty kick following Harold Cummings' foul on Javier Aquino.
With the victory in Victor Manuel Vucetich's first game as coach, Mexico (2-2-5) improved to 11 points and overtook Panama (1-3-5) for fourth place in the final round of qualifying for North and Central America and the Caribbean.
The U.S. (6-2-1) and Costa Rica (4-2-3) already have clinched berths, and Honduras (4-3-2) is third with 14 points and on track for the region's final automatic berth. The fourth-place finisher meets Oceania champion New Zealand in a home-and-home playoff for a spot in the 32-nation field in Brazil next year.
Mexico closes at Costa Rica on Tuesday night, when Panama hosts the U.S. and Honduras is at last-place Jamaica (0-5-4) in matches scheduled to start simultaneously.
Vucetich made several changes, putting Ochoa in goal in place of Jesus Corona, Ochoa's first qualifying appearance since March.
Rafa Marquez, the 34-year-old defender and midfielder who used to captain the team, started in his first international appearance since February 2012.