Mexico Quells Doubters in All Whites Play-Off

A confidence-boosting 5-1 win at the Azteca puts Mexico one step away from the World Cup
by Brendan Doherty   |   Thursday, November 14, 2013

 MEX Matters - column on Liga MX, El Tri & Mexican futbol.

Though fans of El Tri are all smiles now, there were a few concerns heading into the home leg of Mexico's Intercontinental play-off with New Zealand.

The 5-1 result on Wednesday is just about as good as anyone could have imagined, but a lot of fans worried about the abilities of both the coach and players the new Mexican manager, Miguel “Piojo” Herrera, called in.

Wednesday's match could have been the culmination of the worst calendar year for the Mexican national team in memory. After an embarrassing display in the Hexagonal round of WCQ, the team's ticket to Brazil fell into Miguel “Piojo” Herrera's hands for a two-game Intercontinental play-off against New Zealand.

Herrera has been the toast of Liga MX since his Club América squad won Clausura 2013 and ran away with Apertura 2013 regular season, buoyed by going undefeated in its first seven games when they were on top of the table with two games in hand.

Herrera came into the match relatively untested in big games as a manager having only managed one major final, the Clausura 2013 Final in which his America team beat Cruz Azul on penalties (and he went full Super Saiyan).

The coach also received criticism for his decision to leave out European-based players and to base his squad around seven players from Club América. Although New Zealand is not a power in global football, there were question marks about how Mexico's defense would handle an archetypal center forward and whether the attack could break down a defensive-minded team, especially without Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez or Héctor Moreno.

The Mexican Football Federation put its trust in Miguel Piojo Herrera and he has certainly paid that confidence back with the team's outstanding performance against New Zealand.

A look at the game

Braving 36 degree Fahrenheit weather, 105,000 fans filled up Estadio Azteca on the coldest day of the year in Mexico City. As the teams walked out to start the day's proceedings, the Azteca provided what could best be described as a cool reception. El Tri quickly set about to warm up its WC hopes and in doing so, warmed up the fans.

In first half hour of play minutes Mexico showed a willingness to shift the point of attack from Miguel Layún on the left wing, Paul Aguilar on the right, Luís Montes on the edge of the area, or deep passes from Rafael Márquez. Instead of showing frustration and impatience, as the team often has this year, the relentless attacking play provided Mexico the breakthrough in the 32nd minute.

Oribe Peralta drove forward through the center of the field before a New Zealand defender knocked the ball off his foot with a sliding challenge. Luís Montes picked up on the ball on the right wing and sent a cross into the area towards Raúl Jiménez. New Zealand's goalkeeper Glen Moss rushed off his line to punch clear but a defender attempted a headed clearance instead. That failed clearance bounced into open space in front of the far post where Paul Aguilar coolly slotted his left footed shot into the empty net to give Mexico the lead and liven up the crowd.

Last month Raúl Jiménez showed inventiveness and audacity with his game-winning chilena against Panama. In Wednesday's game, with Mexico up 1-0 towards the end of the first half, Jiménez tried a similar creative right footed scorpion-kick on a ball played in by Miguel Layún that forced Moss into a diving save.

On the resulting corner kick in the 40th minute, Carlos “Gullit” Peña was unmarked to nod the ball on towards the far post. Jiménez forced his way past New Zealand's Jeremy Christie to power his header home for Mexico's second goal.

Mexico picks right back up

New Zealand came out of the halftime break with new life and fashioned the first chance of the second period. By pressing forward with more numbers, New Zealand opened up space for Mexico to exploit on the counterattack. Shortly after winning possession from New Zealand, Rafa Márquez looked up to see Miguel Layún racing up the left flank. Márquez hit a 75-yard pass that Layún controlled with his first touch before threading the needle for Oribe Peralta in the area. Peralta slid in to knock the ball past a helpless Moss to put the game out of reach at 3-0 in the 48th minute.

Though the Kiwis tried to apply more pressure after that goal and had more of the ball, they couldn't make a breakthrough. Instead of slowing down in the final 10 minute, the game flared up. Peralta had the best goal of the night with a cabezazo from 12 yards out after Layún sent in a great cross from the left side. Four minutes later, Rafa Márquez rose up above a group of other players to knock a header down out of Moss's reach for Mexico's fifth.

New Zealand got a consolation goal just a minute later as Christian James hit a volleyed shot that spun in off the post past a rooted Moisés Muñoz. Despite ruining the clean sheet, the goal against didn't put much of a damper on the party atmosphere inside Estadio Azteca. “Piojo” Herrera might need to visit the team's physio after his trademark animated goal celebrations on the sidelines.

Mexico will now look ahead to next Wednesday's return leg in New Zealand. Despite taking a 5-1 lead with them, Herrera said that the team will still look to play their natural attacking game in Wellington.

NEXT UP: November 20 – WCQ Playoffs: New Zealand vs. Mexico, Westpac Stadium, Wellington, New Zealand. 1 a.m. EST, ESPN, Univision, UnivisionDeportes.com.

Brendan DOHERTY

Nationality:
USA
College:
Hamilton College
Club Domestic:
Rochester Rhinos, RBNY
Club Foreign:
Tottenham, Club América
Household Jeopardy champion from a small town in Upstate New York. Simultaneously brought to Tottenham Hotspur by a youth coach & given a copy of FIFA 2004. Enthusiastically pragmatic & a student of the game. Covering the Mexican National Team & Liga MX.
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