After Mexico finally came to life in 2013 to destroy New Zealand at the Estadio Azteca, the second leg of their World Cup playoff in Wellington next Wednesday should now be nothing more than a formality. A 5-1 victory was achieved with the type of high-tempo, dynamic performance that has been so sorely missing during an insipid year for El Tri.
Despite the gulf in class and score between the two teams in the first leg, Mexico coach Miguel Herrera claims to be focused on giving the team’s recently suffering fans another performance to savor.
"People will obviously get excited by what they saw," he said in his postgame press conference, according to MLSSoccer.com. "And these players are going to give everything they have to win over there [in New Zealand] as well."
"The truth is that the team was in debt with the fans and we repaid it to some extent," he added. "[The debt] is not settled yet. We hope to give them more satisfaction by coming back from New Zealand and delivering to them the ticket to the World Cup in Brazil."
Even though the tie may be settled, the match still has plenty of significance for Herrera, with it set to be decided in December whether he will continue in his role going forward to the World Cup. An impressive display at the Azteca could easily be quickly forgotten by Mexico’s fickle decision makers if old problems return in Wellington.
Barring injuries, there is unlikely to be any changes to the lineup for the second leg. Herrera’s decision to select only players plying their trade in Mexico worked a treat, while having so many of his Club America men in the team helped with the implementations of his 3-5-2 formation. Going forward, Mexico will need to refine both their strategy and personnel. The domestically based players may have been good enough to trounce New Zealand, but whoever the coach is will have to find a way of integrating many of those European-based players who have disappointed in the past year back into the team, while maintaining a high level of performance.
Herrera could afford to ignore those playing abroad, for what he claims were logistical reasons, in the knowledge that those players selected would still be comfortably superior to their New Zealand counterparts. Just how poor the All Whites were, though, may have surprised even him.
True, New Zealand were without their key defender Winston Reid who would have helped cut out some of the individual errors that led to goals. However, the approach from Ricki Herbert’s side was utterly suicidal. They were always going to sit deep, but to operate like a side clinging desperately to a narrow lead in the final minutes from the very start gave his players no chance of success. The way New Zealand conceded possession so readily invited pressure that, with or without Reid or even the now retired defensive stalwart Ryan Nelson, they were never going to be able to withstand for 90 minutes.
It was a performance in sharp contrast to the stubborn displays produced under Herbert when the side ended the last World Cup as the only unbeaten team. With Herbert’s contract due to expire at the end of the current World Cup cycle, he may be entering his final match in charge.
"Who knows about my future," Herbert said after the Azteca mauling, according to The New Zealand Herald. “Is there anybody better? [I] don't know. [But] those are discussions I will have with New Zealand Football. "But it's not about me, it's about the future of the game. If for whatever reason there is a decision to stay on and people are comfortable about that then those decisions will be made. I have no 100 per cent [position on my future] in my mind at the moment.”
With his job potentially on the line, it remains to be seen whether Herbert will be much more adventurous in his tactics or team selection in the second leg. New Zealand can surely not play as negatively as in the first leg in front of their own fans. Certain changes will be forced upon Herbert with Chris Wood, Leo Bertos and Ivan Vicelich all ruled out through suspension. The man who came off the bench to get his side’s sole goal on Wednesday Chris James could well start, as could exciting young Stuttgart midfielder Marco Rojas.
Prediction: New Zealand are unlikely to be as poor as they were at the Azteca, but, even with home support at the Westpac Stadium, Mexico will still have too much quality and will finish the job with something to spare.
New Zealand 1-3 Mexico
Where to watch: The second leg of the World Cup playoff will kick off at 1 a.m. ET on Wednesday, Nov. 20. Coverage will be provided by ESPN and Univision, with live streams available on Watch ESPN and UnivisionDeportes.com.