Raul Jimenez's 80th-minute penalty has earned Mexico a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Panama to open up a four-point gap between the sides in the race to qualify for Qatar 2022.
Jimenez returned after missing the past two games with a calf injury to be a constant threat for El Tri, before converting the spotkick won by Diego Lainez in Mexico City on Wednesday.
The late strike eased the pressure on El Tri head coach Gerardo Martino after Saturday's 0-0 home draw with Costa Rica, as third-placed Mexico moved clear of fourth-placed Panama in the CONCACAF playoff spot with three games to play.
Wolves forward Jimenez had the bulk of Mexico's chances, including having an early second-half goal disallowed by the VAR.
Lainez, who was introduced as a 66th-minute substitute for Hirving Lozano, won the penalty with quick feet after being upended by Abdiel Ayarza. Jimenez sent Panama goalkeeper Luis Mejia the wrong way with his cool finish.
In the fifth minute of stoppage time, the visitors almost grabbed a crucial late equalizer when Michael Amir Murillo pushed forward and glanced a header wide.