Nightmare finally over: Mexico cruises in New Zealand, becomes the 31st team to qualify for 2014 World Cup
Nov 20, 2013, 3:12 AM EST
The disappointment of CONCACAF’s final round is officially meaningless. Three wins in 10 to close qualifying? It doesn’t matter, nor does the four-coach carousel that left Mexico in turmoil or El Tri’s need to have their World Cup lives saved by the arch rival Americans. After their two-legged playoff romp of Oceania champion New Zealand, the only thing that matter to Mexico soccer are six words: El Tri are going to Brazil.
Fueled by a first half hat trick from Santos Laguna’s Oribe Peralta, Mexico became the 31st team to qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, the ease of their playoff’s second leg in Wellington better described by the tie’s aggregate score than the 4-2 victory Miguel Herrera’s team collected on Wednesday. Finishing their 180 minutes against the All Whites with a 9-3, Mexico easily qualified for a sixth straight World Cup.
It was just over a month ago that those World Cup hopes were on life support, Mexico’s impending loss in Costa Rica on CONCACAF’s last qualifying match day set to eliminate the team as Panama held on to a 2-1 lead over the United States. Then, in stoppage time in Panama City, a Graham Zusi goal pulled the U.S. even, a result that would allow Mexico to stay ahead of the Canaleros to claim CONCACAF’s playoff spot. When Aron Johansson gave the U.S. a win one minute later, Mexico had survived, if miraculously so.
Now, 36 days later, Mexico’s been reborn, a transformation that’s involved wholesale changes by Herrera, hired after the team’s loss in Costa Rica. Coming off a win last week in Mexico City, those changes were again evidence in the team’s starting XI – the same 5-3-2 formation that produced a 5-1 win at Estadio Azteca. Conversely, New Zealand made five changes, Ricky Herbert sacrificing a defender for an attacker as the All White set up to chase goals.
Yet as if picking up from leg one, it only took 14 minutes for Mexico to increase their lead. Whereas El Tri had failed to beat Glen Moss minutes earlier, a move orchestrated by Carlos Pena and Oribe Peralta eventually beat the Wellington Phoenix goalkeeper for the opener. Running across New Zealand captain Tommy Smith and behind the All Whites line, Peralta scooped Pena’s through ball over a sliding Moss from six yards out, the ball descending down and over the goal line to make it 6-1.
By the 22nd minute, when a ball threaded through the defense forced Moss into a point-blank stop on Raúl Jiménez, Mexico was using New Zealand’s desperation to their advantage, turnovers forced at the edge of their defensive third rewarded with space in midfield. Although the Kiwis were able to pose an occasional threat, as they did through Jeremy Brockie in the 24th minute, Mexico were still generating the better chances. In the 29th minute, Miguel Layún found an unmarked Peralta at the top of the six-yard box for an embarrassingly easy goal.
Four minutes later, Peralta had his hat trick, a goal created after a New Zealand turnover deep in their own end allowed Pena to get behind the defense. Replicating goal number two, Mexico increased their overall lead to seven with Peralta’s left-footed finish from just outside the six.
Even when things broke right for New Zealand, it was to no avail. In the 39th minute, Mexico goalkeeper Moises Muñoz conceded a penalty kick – a chance for the Kiwis to give the packed stands at Westpac Stadium reason to buzz going into halftime. Instead, Brockie served a thigh high shot well inside the left post, allowing Muñoz to keep it 3-0.
A second half played at a gallop saw New Zealand dominate possession but initially generate few chances on Muñoz, Mexican energies funneled into defense able to neuter any threat the All Whites posed from their myriad corner kicks. Despite the hosts’ control of the ball, attention was on whether Perelta would get a fourth, not whether Herbert’s side would get their consolation.
In the 72nd minute, Peralta nearly scored a fourth, a ball headed for goal kept out by a New Zealand defender. In the 75th, a cross from the right just hopped over Peralta’s boot, the Man of the Match again unmarked at the edge of the six-yard box. Replaced in the 76th minute, Peralta would have to content himself with the mere three goals.
In the 80th minute, New Zealand began collecting their small but (if the crowd’s raucous reaction was any indication) important consolation, a generously given penalty off a Rafa Marquez handball allowing Chris James to get the All Whites on the board. Finishing high into the right of goal, James cut the Kiwis’s deficit to two, with a volleyed conversion by Brockie off an 83rd minute cross bringing the hosts within one on the night. When Pena added Mexico’s final goal in the 87th minute, however, the air left had once again left the New Zealand sails.
Ultimately the story was less New Zealand’s silver lining than Mexico’s rebirth, with players like Peralta casting further doubt on the importance of European-based players to Mexico’s cause. Herrera controversially omitted all foreign-based talents from has playoff squads, leaving the likes of Javier Hernandez, Andres Guardado, and Giovani Dos Santos with their English and Spanish clubs. But in Peralta, Pena, and Raúl Jiménez, Herrera found players that were capable of performing to Mexico’s standards, and while the seleccion has seven months to figure out how to re-integrate those superior talents, Herrera’s point was proven. Mexico has enough talent not to be beholden to reputations.
Ideally, El Tri’s playoff success would serve as a wakeup call for the collection of talented but underperforming stars that once looked like a golden generation. But if the Hernandez and Dos Santoses of the world can’t reestablish their pre-qualifying form, Herrera has given the seleccion a way to be competitive next summer. At least, the home-based crew has proved more willing to fight than the superstars they replaced, a fight that’s qualified Mexico for another World Cup.
Tim Cahill hints at Premier League return, says “people will be quietly impressed” with his future plans
Dec 22, 2014, 10:36 PM EST
The Red Bulls midfielder has big plans for himself as a club player and with Australia, but what to make of his future-aimed comments?
Dec 22, 2014, 9:38 PM EST
Find out which club came away with team of the week honors in Round 17 of the Premier League.
Dec 22, 2014, 9:09 PM EST
It’s hard to imagine what Alex Bolanos was thinking, other than, “Hey look, my brother. Let me unload some pain on him.”
Dec 22, 2014, 8:06 PM EST
A hat trick hero takes his bow as this week’s top player.
Dec 22, 2014, 7:37 PM EST
The gossip is heating up ahead of the transfer window reopening in 10 days time. Here’s your latest dose of rumors…
Dec 22, 2014, 6:39 PM EST
Freddy Adu has been released. Again. He is free to sign with any club in the world. Again.
Dec 22, 2014, 5:56 PM EST
90 and 120 minutes weren’t enough to crown an Italian Super Cup champion, but nine rounds of penalties did the trick.
Dec 22, 2014, 5:34 PM EST
PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an in-depth look at Week 17 in the PL.
Dec 22, 2014, 5:12 PM EST
Another professional performance from Jose Mourinho’s men has Chelsea back atop the Premier League.
Dec 22, 2014, 3:28 PM EST
Want to know PST’s top moments of 2014 in the PL? Of course you do. Well, here they are.
Dec 22, 2014, 2:26 PM EST
Watch the Potters take on the leaders at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN.
Dec 22, 2014, 1:47 PM EST
Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. are the top dogs in European soccer after a stellar 2014. But who else is in the top 20?
Dec 22, 2014, 1:00 PM EST
Head butts, highlights and heroism from a memorable year of Premier League.
Dec 22, 2014, 12:10 PM EST
All the details here, as 30 PL games in seven days will be capped off in style to see in the New Year.
Dec 22, 2014, 11:58 AM EST
Can Cameron’s Stoke City beat Chelsea for the second-straight season? Watch live on NBCSN, 3 p.m. ET.
Dec 22, 2014, 11:04 AM EST
After surgery and chemotherapy, Jonas made his return for Newcastle on Monday.
Dec 22, 2014, 10:11 AM EST
Rodgers confident his side can go on a run and re-write the PL history books.
Dec 22, 2014, 8:30 AM EST
No need for a Latvian passport, as Yedlin is granted UK work permit.
Dec 22, 2014, 7:55 AM EST
Geoff on how to stop Chelsea, marking Hazard and the busy festive period in the Premier League.
Dec 21, 2014, 11:59 PM EST
Antoine Griezmann breaks out with three goals in Atletico’s 4-1 result over Athletic Bilbao.
- Premier League Playback: When will Arsenal, Liverpool snap out of their funk? 1
- 2014’s Top Ten moments in Premier League – Numbers 5-1 3
- Watch Live: Stoke City vs. Chelsea (Lineups and Live Stream) 0
- 2014’s Top Ten moments in Premier League – Numbers 10-6 0
- NBC Sports to air first-ever “Premier League Breakaway” show on New Year’s Day 0
- DeAndre Yedlin granted work permit, heading to Tottenham Hotspur 6