Mexico all but punched their ticket to the 2014 World Cup by earning a 5-1 win victory over New Zealand in the first leg of their playoff, but the two must meet again on Wednesday.
If El Tri arrives in Wellington approaching the match as a formality, perhaps their trip to Brazil will be foiled. Not only must New Zealand win, they must do so in grand fashion. To tie the aggregate score and capture the away goals tiebreaker, they'd need at least a 4-0 victory to pull off the upset.
It's not likely. In fact, ESPN Stats & Info calculated that there's less than a 1 percent chance of them shocking the world.
After today's 5-1 home victory over New Zealand, Mexico is 99.2% to advance to the World Cup, according to the ESPN Soccer Power Index.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 13, 2013
But Mexico entered the first leg as cold as could be before catching fire at the most opportune time. Perhaps their good fortunes could reverse on the road.
Here are the keys to their deciding meeting at Westpac Stadium.
Is Mexico Back?
Mexico is now in strong shape to avoid missing the World Cup for the first time in 23 years. After fending off the disaster, have El Tri officially put their past woes behind them?
After surprisingly falling to Honduras, the United States and Costa Rica, Mexico nearly missed the chance even to compete in the playoff. That's a large fall for the national juggernaut.
Last Wednesday's trouncing over New Zealand, however, offered hope that El Tri is back and poised to redeem past mishaps with a run in Brazil. Miguel Herrera's team produced a personal season-high five goals in an all-around dominant effort at Azteca Stadium.
Now it's time to see if this is a sign of things to come or a blip in the pan.
Complacency might have a key player in Mexico's near demise and they can't afford for it to rear its ugly ahead again. The offensive juggernaut from Wednesday needs to show up again for at least a cameo in order to ensure this resurgence is more than a one-game stroke of brilliance.
How Will New Zealand Fare as the Aggressors?
It's a different and certainly uncomfortable position knowing that beating your opponent is not nearly enough. Escaping with a narrow victory accomplishes no more than getting blown out of the water again, so New Zealand must put everything on the table in hopes of winning big.
So how does a team bounce back from a lethargic outing to offset a four-goal deficit against a powerhouse regaining its mojo? The honest answer: They almost certainly don't.
But for the less nihilistic bunch out there, New Zealand must make a dent in the lopsided time of possession that hampered them throughout the first match. Mexico controlled the ball throughout 73 percent of the bout, compiling 21 shots to three from its mismatched opponents.
During the first leg, the All Whites frequently kept most of its players behind the ball in a failed attempt to stymie El Tri. This time around, New Zealand must throw the previous plan in the dumpster and attack with reckless abandon.
The home side can't play not to lose this time around. Taht passive approach invited El Tri to attack for the full 90 minutes and a complete role reversal is the only way the All Whites possess a modicum of a shot.
Will Each Nation's Pride Produce a Meaningful Match?
Mexico enters the second leg knowing the World Cup is a near lock while New Zealand knows its hopes are all but shattered. How will each mindset affect Wednesday's match?
Who will win the second leg?
Will Mexico attempt to massage egos even more with another massive statement victory or will the visitors take it easy with an ultra-conservative loss to avoid a colossal breakdown? Will New Zealand fold if its players don't find the net early and often?
It would be easy for each squad to accept their respectful faiths by half-time and pack up shop, especially from Mexico's standpoint, to avoid an unnecessary injury. But don't count on either team taking it easy until the match is over.
After getting pushed to the brink of a near catastrophic elimination, Mexico will want to put the world on notice with another substantive victory. New Zealand will not want to disappoint the home crowd.
Even if the side can't make the World Cup, New Zealand must at least try to salvage some pride with a gutsy performance against the heavy favorite.