"All Whites outgunned, outclassed," ran the headline on the country's largest news website stuff.co.nz, saying the host nation had humbled Ricki Herbert's football minnows at the 105,000-capacity Azteca Stadium.
"The 5-1 loss to the world's No. 24 side, at an energy-sapping 2,300 metres (altitude), wasn't entirely unexpected but the manner of it galled," Fairfax Media's football correspondent Sam Worthington wrote.
He said the All Whites sat deep, reflecting Herbert's defensive tactics, "and inevitably got what they deserved".
"It could have got even uglier had the Mexicans not made a nervy start and (goalkeeper) Glen Moss not pulled off some top saves."
The New Zealand Herald said the visitors started well as they went into the match looking for a draw to take into the second leg in Wellington on 20 November, but gave possession away too cheaply.
"In time, this may come to be known as the Massacre at the Azteca," it said.
"The All Whites didn't roll over and die - there were courageous efforts, especially from the back three - but the New Zealand side was thoroughly outclassed by a rampant home side."
Former All Whites captain Steve Sumner said there would be no repeat of the wild jubilation in 2009 when the All Whites overcame Bahrain in a similar two-legged tie to reach the World Cup in South Africa.
"5-1's a long way back, it's an impossible dream. I think it's a bit too far this time," he told Sky Sports.
After eight years at the helm, the Wellington match could be Herbert's last in charge and pundits called for the coach to introduce youth and attacking flair for his swansong.
"Herbert will lead a young, fresh All Whites side out for his last game in charge with nothing to lose," New Zealand Herald football writer Steven Holloway said.
"Herbert will deploy an attacking game plan and try to win back the Wellington crowd."