It is a contest that no one in Mexico could have conceived of being involved in, but is none the less one of the biggest matches in their recent history. For their opponents, New Zealand, it is a huge opportunity as they step into one of the world’s most famed arenas -- an Estadio Azteca that was once a cauldron but has become all too hospitable to visitors in 2013.
The two countries meet in the first leg of a World Cup playoff on Wednesday to decide which will snag one of the final two spots for Brazil next year. For a game that is worth an estimated $600 million to Mexico, they will be without their multi-millionaire overseas talent. El Tri’s fourth coach in just two months, Miguel Herrera, has elected to select a squad based entirely on domestic talent and one largely drawn from players from his Club America side.
With enough traveling already involved in a trip to New Zealand next week and little time to prepare, Herrera believes he is best served without the likes of Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Giovani dos Santos and Hector Moreno. The importance of the match to the owners of Liga MX clubs, who controversially control national team affairs, means that the players have been allowed to skip club duties and take part in a near-three-week training camp with the national side. Herrera has already confirmed that his starting lineup will be the same as the one that beat Finland 4-2 in a friendly at the end of last month. Still, it is a bold gamble, but one that Herrera is confident will succeed.
"We are going to win, I have no doubt about that," he said in a press conference on Tuesday, according to the New Zealand Herald. "I'm absolutely sure we are going to win, we have prepared well, we are ready and we are a good team."
New Zealand have had not had the same luxury of an extended training camp. Coach Ricki Herbert was able to have his players train for just two days in Los Angeles before making the trip down to Mexico City on Monday night.
Yet, Herbert explained that the approach the All Whites will take is one that has become tried and tested over the years and that led them to finish the last World Cup with the novelty of being the only unbeaten side.
"We will need to be disciplined up against a higher ranked side and our ability to maintain our shape and perform the roles which have been given will be important for us," Herbert said, reports the New Zealand Herald.
“Our approach is something the players know and are comfortable with and we have a history of producing in.”
Herbert has already named his starting lineup in a formation set out as 3-4-3, but one that for most of the contest will likely more closely resemble a 5-4-1. Crucially, New Zealand will be missing West Ham defender and influential captain Winston Reid.
D: Valenzuela, Marquez, Rodriguez
M: Aguilar, Montes, Medina, Pena, Layun
F: Peralta, Jimenez
New Zealand (confirmed)
D: Smith, Vicelich, Durante
M: Lochhead, Christie, McGlinchey, Bertos
F: Brockie, Wood, Barbarouses
Where to watch: The World Cup playoff will kick off from Estadio Azteca at 3.30 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by ESPN and Univision. A live stream will be available on Watch ESPN and UnivisionDeportes.com.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.