Three questions for the Kiwis

  • New Zealand need a result against Mexico to keep semi-final hopes alive

  • Defeat to Russia means another loss will see them mathematically out of the running

  • Will the All Whites follow same high-press tactics as against the hosts? 

By Brendon Hanley with New Zealand 

Ahead of Wednesday’s seemingly must-win match against Mexico in Group A, some pressing queries have emerged from New Zealand’s camp.

Can they learn quickly enough? Several players and coach Anthony Hudson have talked about how the All Whites seldom get the chance to play the level of opposition of Russia, much less in the pressurised circumstances of the opening 2-0 defeat. So everyone has been speaking about the learning curve the team are on and how it will make them improve, but will it happen for El Tri match?

“We don’t play these kinds of games so regularly. You play them and you get exposed for every little mistake, so they are great experiences for us,” Hudson explained to FIFA before adding his usual disclaimer: “But we can’t be going into the next game as a learning opportunity. We want to prepare properly and do everything we possibly can to get a result.”

Will there be changes to the team? Many of the Kiwis point to the improvement of their play in the second half against the Russians, but against an even quicker and more attack-minded Mexican side, Hudson might opt for a more conservative approach. But he isn’t speaking that way. “We know we want to tweak a few things, but we still want to be aggressive and positive,” said the 36-year-old. Still, expect the inclusion of either Bill Tuiloma or Themi Tzimopoulos in defensive midfield to give the side some more bite.

Will they really try to press Mexico? Hudson is giving nothing away, only saying that if the team “plays the game of their lives, anything can happen”, but some of his players say the side is going to try to stick to the plan of pressuring the CONCACAF champions.

“Anyone that has watched us over the last few games knows that we like to press, so I don’t think that will be any different against Mexico. We like to think if we can win the ball high up the pitch, it will create opportunities to score,” said veteran defender Tommy Smith. “And they can be dangerous if you give them time and space on the ball, so we’re going to try to stop them from having that.”

Promising young left-back Deklan Wynne believes the challenges will be different and perhaps more suited to the All Whites' game plan. “I don’t think they’ll be as physical as Russia, and they like to possess the ball more, which should allow us to get into their half and put them under pressure a bit more.”