The All Whites' path to the 2014 World Cup will almost certainly go through Mexico after an 86th-minute bicycle kick rescued El Tri today.
Mexico beat Panama 2-1 at Estadio Azteca to move into fourth spot in the Concacaf region with one round to play in the Hexagonal qualifying tournament.
The two teams came into the clash level in fourth on eight points, leaving New Zealand likely to face the winner for a place at next year's World Cup in Brazil.
Mexico took a first-half lead but Panama pegged them back with 10 minutes to play, before Raul Jimenez flicked up Javier Hernandez's cross on the edge of the box and knocked a stunning overhead kick into the bottom corner to claim the points.
With Honduras having earlier edged Costa Rica 1-0 to all but lock up the last automatic qualification spot - joining the United States and Costa Rica - a draw in Mexico City would have left Panama in the box seat for fourth.
The minnows are hosting the US in the final round on Wednesday and would have known they only had to match or better Mexico's result in Costa Rica.
But Jimenez's heroics appear to have rescued his country from a disastrous qualifying campaign and set them on a collision course with the All Whites.
Mexico can still sneak into third if they beat Costa Rica and Honduras lose to last-placed Jamaica, while Panama can claim fourth if they beat the United States and Mexico lose to Costa Rica.
If the current standings remain after Wednesday Mexico, the 21st-ranked nation in the world and with 14 previous World Cup appearances, will start as heavy favourites when the All Whites travel to the 105,000-seat Azteca on November 15. The return leg is set for Wellington on November 20.
USA (19 points), Costa Rica (15), Honduras (14), Mexico (11), Panama (8), Jamaica (4)
Wed: Costa Rica v Mexico, Jamaica v Honduras, Panama v USA