Shockingly, Mexico—which coming into the final round of CONCACAF qualifying was considered the region's most talented team—has to fight for its World Cup life in a play-in playoff series against New Zealand.
The playoff begins in the famous Azteca Stadium, where El Tri has traditionally been extremely hard to beat. That wasn't the case in the hexagonal portion of qualifying, however, as Mexico took just six points from five home games and scored just three goals at Azteca.
That will certainly give the underdogs hope, as New Zealand is a long shot to beat Mexico. Let's break down the first leg of this matchup, with a World Cup spot hanging in the balance.
When: Wednesday, November 13, at 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: Azteca Stadium, Mexico City, Mexico
Watch: ESPN, WatchESPN
As if Mexico's qualifying campaign wasn't dysfunctional enough, the team will be without one of its top stars, Giovani dos Santos, for both fixtures as the forward suffered an injury to his right hamstring last week and is out for two weeks, according to ESPN.
Not a good start for El Tri.
New coach Miguel Herrera—Mexico's fourth coach in six weeks when he was hired—has also left all European-based players off the squad, meaning stars such as Javier Hernandez of Manchester United and Javier Aquino of Villarreal are sitting the first leg out.
Herrera cited a taxing travel schedule—and a desire to utilize players accustomed to Mexico City's high altitude—for his reasoning behind leaving the European stars off the roster. If the move backfires, however, and Mexico fails to win its home leg, El Tri could potentially end up with their fifth new coach in as many months rather shortly.
Along with trying to defeat Mexico in a tough environment, New Zealand will have to overcome the loss of West Ham defender Winston Reid, who won't be available for this contest with an ankle injury. For a team already very unlikely to win in Mexico City, the task just became a lot taller.
El Tri may have only won two qualifying games at Azteca Stadium in the hexagonal, but they are nearly impossible to beat at their legendary fortress. Even without El Chicharito, they are justifiably the heavy favorites.
New Zealand will put up a fight, but it would be shocking if it managed to even earn a draw against a desperate Mexico side.
El Tri will win this contest 2-0.