Posted on March 12, 2014
Update: EL Tri runs rampant against New Zealand, takes major step toward Brazil
That sigh of relief blowing north in gale-force glory is a mass of millions of Mexicans proud of their country’s 5-1 victory against New Zealand in today’s Inter-continental Play-off in Estadio Azteca.
The dominant display almost guarantees El Tri a spot in 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ after a long, laborious qualification campaign in which Mexico has flirted with, almost unthinkably, failing to qualify soccer’s summer showpiece on the field for the first time since 1982.
Oribe Peralta led the way, dazzling with a double to make it eight goals in his last seven appearances with his national team, which was playing in their lucky, sharp new jersey from adidas.
Captain Rafa Marquez, back in the national side for the second straight game after missing out for a year, was inspirational as well, contributing two assists and adding a goal for good measure to put an exclamation point on the result.
Playing with a fresh set of domestic based players and under manager Miguel Herrera for the first time in a competitive match, Mexican players cooled nerves quickly, thoroughly outclassing an overmatched All Whites team, bossing possession to the tune of 73 percent on the day.
Players used the ball wisely, amassing 21 shots and forcing save after save from Glen Moss, who performed admirably.
The return leg, a near formality, will be played in Wellington, New Zealand one week from today. Mexico needs only to avoid a four goal defeat to become bound for Brazil.
Mexico’s 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ hopes were hanging by a thread, but ultimately El Tri got by the CONCACAF Hexagonal with a little help from their archrivals.
Given new life after the United States scored two late goals against Panama on the final day of qualifying to pave the way for Mexico’s fourth-place finish, only two Intercontinental Playoff dates with Oceania Football Confederation champions New Zealand stand between the men hailing from Estadio Azteca and a trip to Brazil next summer for the finals.
Now that their underwhelming qualifying campaign that saw El Tri win just twice and draw five times in 10 games against the other top five teams in North America and the Caribbean is history, Mexico is taking a fresh approach and comes into the match full of optimism.
They will play the first leg of two matches with New Zealand in Mexico City on Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. ET, with the return fixture set for Nov. 20 in Wellington Regional Stadium, known locally as “The Cake Tin.”
“This seat doesn’t burn, we’re here thinking of getting the (World Cup™) ticket and we’ll succeed. I’d never say no to my national team… so now I’m the happiest man on the planet to have been chosen to be here,” Mexican manager Miguel Herrera said in pre-match news conference covered by Reuters.
The matchup with New Zealand is more difficult than you might think, though. The All Whites were perfect in winning the Oceania region, winning six of six matches.
New Zealand also performed valiantly in 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa, earning three draws including a famous 1-1 result against then-reigning champions Italy, though the three points weren’t enough to advance from Group F to the Round of 16.
They will have to overcome the absence of their captain and heartbeat, Winston Reid, who is starring in defense for West Ham United this season. He will miss both games as he picked up an ankle injury in training Tuesday. New Zealand also will need to find sharpness quickly after not playing a competitive match since winning the Intercontinental Playoff place in March.
Coach Ricki Herbert will take his men into Los Angeles on Saturday to begin final preparations for the match and recalled Shane Smeltz, Chris Wood and Marco Rojas into the side to add a cutting edge to the attack.
Herrera, appointed to lead El Tri in October when he became the national team’s fourth manager of the qualification season, is going with a fresh approach and has selected only domestic-based players for the playoffs.
That means Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and Giovani do Santos will miss out, but Herrera, believes using only players from Liga MX will provide continuity and keep players fresh, as they won’t have to deal with long travel for the first leg.
There’s a mix of experience, players such as former Barcelona and New York Red Bulls defender Rafael Marquez, and talented youth, such as Raul Jimenez, who’s late, game winning bicycle kick against Panama in the penultimate CONCACAF Hexagonal match was the stuff of legend.
Herrera also is relying on 10 players he knows from his time in charge of Club America to do the job for Mexico.
“There are lots of America people because there’s little time to work, because they know perfectly well what we want on the pitch and this way we can reach the level we need a lot quicker,” Herrera said.
Can Mexico make it to Brazil? What do you think? Let us know in the comments section below.