Mexico will seek the last ticket to Brazil 2014 through a two-legged playoff against New Zealand. Different from what many think, the feat won't be easy.
El Tri is going through its worst football crisis, and their 2-5-3 record in the Hexagonal is the clearest proof of it. In a fair world, a team with a performance like this should not have a single shot at the World Cup.
Mexico is in the playoff for two reasons: Raul Jimenez scored the goal of his life at the Estadio Azteca and the United States played their hearts out at Panama to secure first place in the Hexagonal in style.
Mexico spared through no real effort of their own. Now a chance to snag some frequent flier miles before the holidays with a trip to NZL!— U.S. Soccer (@ussoccer) October 16, 2013
Whoever thinks that New Zealand will be a piece of cake is completely wrong. The All Whites sit 65th in the FIFA Ranking, but mentality-wise, they are going through a better time than Mexico.
They are already in the American continent, and being here a month earlier will allow them to get used to the time zone.
Mexico will not have that luxury. The first leg will be played on November 13, the second leg will be held a week later at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington.
Also, New Zealand have already played three friendlies, against USL Premier Development League club Ventura County Fusion (1-1), Chivas USA (0-0) and Trinidad and Tobago (0-0). They were supposed to face Mexican club Queretaro in a six-team tournament, but the deal did not go through.
Perhaps those rivals seem harmless, but do not forget that Mexico did not fulfill their expectations at the Gold Cup, the Confederations Cup or the Hexagonal.
Javier Hernandez couldn't convert the clearest goal opportunity he had in the Hexagonal. Hernandez will not play in the first leg, as he was booked against Costa Rica.
He may not be missed.
Chicharito needs continuity with Manchester United. He lacks confidence and rhythm, which are two things that El Tri need desperately.
It is painful to see the defense struggle on a regular basis and watch as some of the easier plays turn out to be serious threats.
A footballer like Raul Jimenez should not be on the bench and wait until the second half to get a chance. He not only provided the winner against Panama, but he is also one of the best scorers in the Liga MX.
If Hugo Ayala and Javier Aquino are not mature enough to step up and make a difference in crucial games, they should not play.
Victor Manuel Vucetich has to be blunt and cap the best. It doesn't matter if they play in Spain or in Mexico, if they have 20-year-olds or players in their mid-30s. El Tri has to be a team of the best Mexican footballers, not a team that respects so-called hierarchies.
The pride and respect for the jersey have been gone for a while, and the so-called CONCACAF giant has to leave behind its cockiness and vanity.
New Zealand come to the playoff with an unbeaten record in the third round of the World Cup qualifier.
Yes, they faced New Caledonia, Tahiti and Solomon Islands (95, 146 and 169 in the FIFA Ranking, respectively), not the strongest teams out there. However, those wins put the All Whites in a better position mentality-wise.
Some of their key players did not make it to the American tour due to injury or suspension, but they will be ready for the big match at the Estadio Azteca.
Marco Rojas, dubbed the Kiwi Messi, has a fantastic right-foot touch and enviable speed. Chris Killen, who scored three times in the third round of the World Cup qualifying, is a strong and confident striker. Shane Smeltz is New Zealand’s second all-time top scorer.
They may not be the most technical squad, but they sure know how to take advantage of their strength and physical attributes. They will put Mexico in distress with crosses to the center of the box.
After the Hexagonal ended, All Whites boss Ricki Herbert talked to the New Zealand Herald about Mexico:
It's been an incredibly tough tournament for them. It's not a side anybody would expect to be in that position, that far down, but they're still a very good side. They can probably regroup now, refresh. I don't think they have been in this playoff situation before so this is new to them. They're probably unaware of what New Zealand is about let alone where New Zealand is.
El Tri have to work on pace, depth and creativity. Those components have been missing since February, which have led them to be an unorganized and predictable team.
Vucetich has one month to figure it out and give this team a different face.