By the skin of their teeth.
That's how Mexico managed to advance to a World Cup playoff against New Zealand on Tuesday night despite losing to Costa Rica, 2-1. That's because—in an unbelievable slice of irony—their northern rivals, the United States, managed to beat Panama 3-2, scoring two goals in stoppage time.
Now, Mexico will face New Zealand in a home-and-away playoff in November, with a trip to Brazil next summer on the line. Below, you'll find everything you need to know about the upcoming fixtures.
|November 13 or 14||Azteca Stadium, Mexico City, Mexico|
|November 20||Wellington Regional Stadium, Wellington, New Zealand|
Javier Hernandez didn't score in his final 10 World Cup qualifiers. For Mexico's best player, it's a drought that will have to come to a close against New Zealand.
Of course, it doesn't help that Hernandez isn't the first name on Manchester United's team sheet. He's only made two starts and five total appearances for the club, so it may be hard to end his slump on the club level.
On SportsCenter Wednesday morning, analyst Alexi Lalas said what a lot of people were thinking about this particular Mexico team—they're soft. The skill is there, but there is at times a tentativeness, a lack of forcefulness, that seems very unfamiliar for an El Tri team.
It's that lack of punch that has to make New Zealand think they'll have a fighting chance. The All Whites will be major underdogs in this one, but Mexico was the favorite to win the hexagonal and managed just seven goals in 10 contests.
Given that rather shocking stat, New Zealand will be just fine with their odds. And remember, Mexico was rather pedestrian at their "fortress" in Mexico City, Azteca Stadium, winning just once in five matches there during hex play.
Which team will advance to the World Cup?
Mexico has a month to figure things out after losing to Costa Rica with their World Cup hopes on the line. The problem for New Zealand is that, even if El Tri can't figure everything out, the Mexicans are still the vastly superior side.
Mexico doesn't look like a team that will make any noise in Brazil next summer, but on sheer ability alone, they should get there. Mexico wins this series on aggregate, 3-1.