The New Zealand Players Mexico Must Shut Down
Mexico are rightfully firm favorites to overcome New Zealand in their two-legged World Cup playoff tie, but the North Americans' shaky form of late and the Kiwis' fighting spirit should ensure the contest is anything but a walkover.
The first leg of the playoff takes place on Thursday at Mexico's famed Azteca Stadium. The visitors will almost certainly be concentrating on maintaining a solid defense. However, an away goal would give the All Whites a huge boost going into the return leg six days later in Wellington.
New Zealand will be without their inspirational captain Winston Reid and striker Chris Killen due to injury, but there are other players in the squad that El Tri need to be wary of.
Though he will start from the bench, there is no more reliable goalscorer in the current New Zealand setup than Shane Smeltz.
The Mexican players need to keep a close eye on the wily 32-year-old if he is brought on.
The Perth Glory star has 23 goals in 48 international appearances, including a strike against Italy at the 2010 World Cup.
Though he is likely to be busy with defensive duties, central midfielder Michael McGlinchey will be the man providing forward thrust whenever New Zealand attempt to break into attack.
The Central Coast Mariners star's creativity will be key for the All Whites, as will his composure in the middle of the park.
If Mexico can stifle him—or better still, ruffle him—they will go a long way to controlling the midfield and the match.
A lack of goals at international level belies this player's ability.
Jeremy Brockie is one of the most naturally gifted players in the New Zealand squad. He is the type of forward who can produce a moment of magic out of nothing to stun the opposition.
Somehow, he has never managed to score for his national team in 34 appearances, but how he would love to get off the mark in this critical encounter.
Cutting in from wide attacking positions, Kosta Barbarouses can exploit any gaps left behind the Mexican full-backs to set up his teammates or attempt shots on goal himself.
With New Zealand likely to play a counter-attacking game—in Mexico City, especially—the Melbourne Victory winger will be an outlet that is sought regularly.
Containing him will limit the Kiwis' options considerably when they advance out of defense.
Young gun Marco Rojas has not played at all since moving to Stuttgart, which is probably why he has only been given a spot on the bench for the game at the Azteca.
A dynamic, quick and skillful attacking player, he is capable of unlocking a defense on his own.
Mexico will be hoping a lack of match sharpness will spare them the best of Rojas.