After a rollercoaster year, Mexico are on the verge of sealing their place at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ following their 5-1 first leg victory in the intercontinental play-off against New Zealand. Nevertheless, the All Whites will be determined not to give El Tri an easy ride in the return fixture.
New Zealand-Mexico, Wellington, 20 November (19:00 local time)
The last time Mexico reached a World Cup via the play-offs came 52 years ago. El Tri won the first leg against Paraguay 1-0 and travelled to Asuncion intent on maintaining their lead, which they successfully did, with the goalless draw guaranteeing Mexico a berth at Chile 1962.
The outlook is even more positive now for Mexico than it was in November of 1961. Despite earning just six points from a possible 15 in their home games during the CONCACAF six-way final, the Mexicans now have one foot in Brazil following a resounding 5-1 win at the Estadio Azteca.
The scoreline, achieved with a team made up only of players from the country’s domestic league, has surely allowed Mexico the chance to extend their run of appearing at consecutive World Cups to six tournaments.
New Zealand face a monumental challenge in trying to overturn such a deficit. Despite knowing the odds are stacked against them, they have not yet given up hope of qualifying and are eager to make amends for their first-leg display.
The Kiwis will be relying on a core of experienced veterans who also reached South Africa 2010 via the play-offs after coming through a nervy tie against Bahrain. Players such as Tony Lochhead and Ivan Vicelich will therefore be asked to shoulder even greater responsibility as they look to achieve the seemingly impossible.
2 - The number of World Cups New Zealand have appeared at, both of which they reached through the play-offs. Their first outing, at Spain 1982, arrived after they defeated China in a single-game play-off in Singapore. New Zealand arrived at South Africa 2010 after recording a 1-0 aggregate scoreline after two legs against Bahrain.
Player to watch
Rafael Marquez (Mexico)
Born in the city of Zamora in Michoacan state, Marquez is Mexico’s voice of experience. The defender spent 13 years away from his homeland, but has now returned to marshal the backline at Leon. With Barcelona he won the Spanish championship four times, the UEFA Champions League twice and has also triumphed at the FIFA Club World Cup and the FIFA Confederations Cup, among other competitions. Marquez’s success, combined with his superb leadership skills, are crucial to a Mexican side still trying to establish an identity for itself.
“Let’s be honest, they were the better team this afternoon and absolutely deserved to win. We still have another opportunity and we can do much better,” New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert analyses the first leg.
“We’re not complacent or thinking it’s already over. In New Zealand we’ll start at 0-0 and we’ll look to hurt them by scoring a goal. We need to stay calm, we’re not there yet.” Mexico coach Miguel Herrera ahead of the second leg.