Mexico Eases into the World Cup

After a year to forget, Mexico qualifies for Brazil in raucous fashion, 9-3 on aggregate
by Brendan Doherty   |   Wednesday, November 20, 2013

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

Mexico did the heavy lifting in Estadio Azteca last week, defeating New Zealand 5-1.

And behind Oribe Peralta’s hat trick, El Tri stomped New Zealand 4-2 on Wednesday, for a 9-3 total aggregate score in the World Cup Qualifying play-off.

New Zealand was facing a daunting task when they walked out to more than 30,000 cheering Kiwis on Wednesday. Not all did they accrue a four goal deficit during the match in Mexico City, but three starters from that game were booked and suspended for the return leg. Already without injured captain Winston Reid, manager Ricki Herbert found himself without Ivan Vicelich, Leo Bertos and Chris Wood.

Despite the uphill challenge in front of them, New Zealand came out ready to battle at the opening whistle. Bolstered by a very loud and active crowd, New Zealand played the first ten minutes with vigor. Mexico were not able to settle into a rhythm because of the relentless high-pressure New Zealand's forwards and midfielders applied. The fans in Westpac Stadium did there part by heckling Mexico with shouts of “Who are ya?! Who are ya?!” as Luis Montes lined up a corner kick.

The Oribe Peralta show

All of New Zealand's hard work in the opening sequences was seemingly undone by Carlos “Gullit” Peña and Oribe Peralta. Carrying the ball forward, Montes shifted the point of attack left to Gullit Peña. Peña was looking up, as if he was eyeing a play at the far post, before he slipped a deceptive pass into the area between central defenders for Peralta to run onto. Glen Moss came off his line but Peralta beat him to the ball near the top of the six-yard-box and chipped a clever shot over the goalkeeper to take the lead.

Even after Mexico went up 1-0, New Zealand continued to press the issue and push men forward. The difference in much of the first half hour was the organization of Mexico's defense. Herrera's five-man defensive system allowed the centerbacks to clog the passing and shooting lanes, smothering the chances New Zealand tried to create. Tidy defending turned almost immediately into quick counter-attacks as Mexico took advantage of the sizable gaps in New Zealand's shape.

In a flashback to last week's game, Club América wingback Miguel Layún played a splendid ball to Peralta who made a streaking run unmarked through the middle. From wide of the penalty area Layún drove in a low centering pass that Peralta neatly tucked into the far upper corner from seven yards out to put Mexico up 2-0. Glen Moss stayed on his line for this play but had to pick the ball out of the net nonetheless.

Just four minutes later, Peralta grabbed his hat-trick. The crafty forward again slipped the leaky New Zealand defense. This time around, Gullit Peña played the pass in from the left side but Peralta converted just the same. Oribe! Oribe! Oribe! His fifth goal of the WCQ play-off series capped off a tremendous run of form for the 29 year old forward; his 11th international goal in Mexico's eight games since August.

New Zealand were offered a lifeline back into the game before halftime. The referee called Moisés Muñoz for a foul on Jeremy Brockie inside the area despite replays showing the goalkeeper pulling out of his challenge after Brockie knocked the ball out of his reach. German referee Dr. Felix Brych pointed to the penalty spot and Brockie stepped up to take the shot. In an instance of poetic justice, Muñoz easily saved the shot diving to his right to keep the score at 3-0.

Mexico gets complacent

In the second half New Zealand came out with more spirited attacking intent, but Mexico withstood the growing pressure. Neither team could fashion a quality scoring chance until for the first 25 minutes of the half, New Zealand with deliberate build-ups and Mexico on the counter-attack.

In the next couple minutes, Paul Aguilar was involved in action on both ends of the field. Aguilar sent in a dangerous, low cross that cut through the six-yard box just out of reach of both Mexico's forwards and Glen Moss. During New Zealand's next attacking sequence, a midfielder sent in a deep cross from the right side that Aguilar tried to trap with his chest down for Muñoz to grab. Aguilar controlled the ball with his left arm but the referee wasn't in a position to see the contact as both players and fans alike screamed in vain for a penalty.

In the 79th minute, Aguilar slid in to knock the ball away in his own penalty area and it bounced up off his arms. This time the referee did have a clear view and awarded New Zealand its second penalty kick of the match. Christian James, the goal-scorer from the first leg, stepped up and placed his shot with power into the right upper corner in the back of the net out of reach of a diving Muñoz.

Even though his first in Mexico City was nothing more than a consolation, New Zealand quickly had reason to hope for a result in the return leg at home. Less than two minutes after the successful penalty, substitute Rory Fallon knocked in his team's second to make it 3-2. After an attacking play was partially broken up by Mexico, there was a lack of communication between “Maza” Rodríguez and Miguel Layún that left Fallon wide open near the top of the six-yard box. A teammate played a short cross to him and Fallon stepped into a left footed half volley that he sent back the way it came into and into the net.

Just as the players and most of the 35,000 spectators in attendance at Westpac Stadium thought a comeback was possible against all odds, Mexico sealed the game. Amid New Zealand fans' chants of “We want three! We want three!” Mexico hit the home side on the counter attack again.

Substitute attacking midfielder Antônio “Sinha” Naelson played the ball out wide to Aguilar, who cut a centering ball back towards Peña, who was making a late run. From close range Gullit buried his shot in the 86th minute to give Mexico a 4-2 lead in the game and a 9-3 lead on aggregate.

Despite all the celebrations in Estadio Azteca last week and during Peralta's blistering first half hat trick, Peña’s goal allowed Mexico to finally exhale. After a torrid time in the Hexagonal round of CONCACAF qualifying, Miguel Herrera inspired the Mexican players to reclaim some dignity and finally book their place in the 2014 World Cup.

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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