After an almighty struggle through 2013, in the end Mexico confirmed their place in the 2014 World Cup at a canter. A hat-trick inside 33 minutes from Oribe Peralta put El Tri out of sight of New Zealand following a 5-1 win in the first leg of their qualifying playoff at the Estadio Azteca last week.
To their credit, the All Whites did provide some cheer for their supporters in Wellington with Christian James converting a penalty 10 minutes before the end before Rory Fallon added a second three minutes later.
New Zealand, though, struggled defensively throughout the two legs and conceded once more to the again impressive Carlos Pena. Without the injured Winston Reid and shorn of their previous influential captain Ryan Nelson, Ricki Herbert’s side had none of the same resilience at the back that led them to finish the last World Cup as the only unbeaten side, which included claiming a memorable draw with Italy.
But, while New Zealand have certainly regressed in that regard, Miguel Herrera deserves much praise for getting Mexico to finally play with the attacking impetus that was so frustratingly lacking throughout the year. His squad of entirely domestic-based players has made a strong case to form the basis of the side heading to Brazil, ahead of the European-based stars who have so underperformed of late. The two goal-scorers for Mexico in the Westpac Stadium have been key to the revival and must surely be set to perform major roles at the World Cup.
While many were mystified at the exclusion of Javier Hernandez from the squad, Peralta has been the striker in far better form for Mexico for some time. His opener came with a delightful dink over New Zealand goalkeeper Glen Moss after just 14 minutes.
The supplier of the superb through ball to set him up was Pena, the man who has been key in adding a dynamism and attacking thrust from midfield. The Leon 23-year-old set up the third for Peralta too, this time with a low ball across the box for the forward to convert from six yards. That completed Peralta’s hat-trick after Miguel Layun laid on the second in the 29th minute.
New Zealand missed a chance to pull one back before the break when Jeremy Brockie’s spot kick was saved by Moises Munoz. Mexico’s keeper was unable to keep out the second penalty of the game when James converted after a handball from Rafael Marquez. And, despite the still unflattering score line in the tie, the record crowd for an international in New Zealand were again in raptures when Fallon finished stylishly on the volley.
Fittingly, in a tie they dominated, Mexico would have the last world when Pena finished low inside the upright after a low cross reached him at the back post.