No one would have guessed Mexico were going to need the inter-continental playoff in order to get through to the 2014 World Cup, with a tough New Zealand side in the way, but so many things went wrong during this qualifying campaign it’s a miracle they’ve made it this far.
After yet another managerial change, Mexico are going in with a locals-only approach to the match. Miguel Herrera, who led Club America to the 2013 Clausura title has been appointed, and with him comes the decision to use only players from the Mexican league, which means Javier Hernandez and others weren’t called up to play in the match. He called up 10 players from Club America, in hope that relying on his high-pressure 3-5-2 system will too much for the visitors.
Turning the Azteca back into a fortress is a number one priority, even if it for just one match. Mexico scored only 0.6 goals during the final group stage during their home matches, and needed a late wonder goal from Raul Jimenez to beat Panama 2-1, which still wouldn’t have been enough if not for the United States beating Panama with injury time goals a few days later while Mexico were losing to Costa Rica.
For New Zealand, who came through the negligible Oceania qualifying zone, there’s nothing to lose. They did impress in the 2010 World Cup by earning three draws and showing some tough football, but this side is weaker than the one from four years ago, and is missing one of its most important players in Winston Reid of West Ham, the team’s captain.
The Kiwis will probably defend with 10 men behind the ball, only looking to come away from this encounter with a minimal loss or even a draw, as their 4-0 win in a friendly match from over 30 years ago serving as a point of inspiration and motivation about making the second leg a meaningful one, knowing that Mexico are quite short on confidence with the expectations of a football-crazed nation possibly paralyzing their players.
Prediction – Even without great football, Mexico are the far superior side in this match, especially at home. With all the pressure and fear of failure, just like in the match vs Panama, El Tri should have enough to get themselves a good result, although possibly not one that will give them too much confidence heading into the second leg across the Pacific Ocean.