New Zealand vs. Mexico Playoff: Last-Minute Preview for 2014 World Cup Qualifier

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistNovember 20, 2013

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - NOVEMBER 13: Rafael Marquez of Mexico struggles for the ball with Chris Wood of New Zealand during a match between Mexico and New Zealand as part of the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers at Azteca Stadium on November 13, 2013 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)
Getty Images/Getty Images

Mexico look poised to qualify for the World Cup when they take on New Zealand on Thursday in the second leg of their qualifying playoff.

El Tri won the first leg 5-1 in the Estadio Azteca. It was a tremendous performance from Mexico and a cathartic moment for fans and players alike. After the disaster that was CONCACAF qualification, it was only a matter of time before things came together for Mexico on the pitch.

Overturning that four-goal deficit will be difficult for the All Whites, even playing at home. They've done well playing a defensive style and keeping the score low.

They're not used to playing an uptempo style, and taking chances in the attack only leaves them exposed at the back. Ricki Herbert will have a dangerous balancing act as he looks to get New Zealand through to the World Cup.

It should be an entertaining game, no matter the result.

When: Wednesday, Nov. 20, at 1 a.m. ET

Where: Westpac Stadium, Wellington, New Zealand

Watch: ESPN

Live Stream: Watch ESPN

What to Watch For

Can New Zealand Make a Comeback?

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - NOVEMBER 13: Players of New Zealand sing their national anthem during a match between Mexico and New Zealand as part of the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers at Azteca Stadium on November 13, 2013 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Miguel Tov
Getty Images/Getty Images

The answer is, probably not, at least looking at ESPN's Soccer Power Index, via ESPN Stats & Info:

At least the All Whites got that crucial away goal. Now they only have to score four goals, and they're through to Brazil. And as John Madden would probably put it, a four-goal deficit is one goal better than a five-goal deficit.

This is almost like watching Tahiti back at the 2013 Confederations Cup.

You should tune in early to see how long New Zealand can stay in the tie. Maybe they get an early goal, and maybe this turns into a historic night.

At least wait until Mexico score and erase whatever hope is left in Wellington. Then you have permission to turn the channel and do whatever you were doing before.

What else are you doing at 1 a.m.? Sleeping? That's not an excuse.

Will Miguel Herrera Solidify His Position as Coach of El Tri?

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - NOVEMBER 19:  Coach Miguel Herrera of Mexico speaks to media during a press conference at Westpac Stadium on November 19, 2013 in Wellington, New Zealand.  (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

The more intriguing storyline is about how Mexico will follow up that win in Mexico City. It will have a big impact on the future of Miguel Herrera.

For the time being, he's just on for this playoff. It's not a sure thing that he'll stay on beyond Wednesday morning. Of course, it would be crazy to sack him if Mexico book their place, but who would've thought Mexico would even be in the playoff in the first place?

In addition, the Mexican Football Federation is nothing if not crazy and unpredictable.

There's no doubting Mexico looked a different side in that first leg. The players didn't look burdened with expectation and weren't afraid to take some chances. It's a far cry from the timid sides of Jose Manuel de la Torre.

Mexico have the talent to be the best country in CONCACAF. With all the turmoil behind the scenes and questionable managerial decisions, that talent was wasted.

Under Herrera, El Tri look to be fulfilling their potential.

It's not so much about just advancing on Wednesday. More important is how they advance. For instance, Mexico could lose to New Zealand 3-0 and advance 5-4 on aggregate. That wouldn't inspire any confidence back home.

In order to further cement Herrera as the man, Mexico need to win and win comfortably. They need to score early and kill off any chance of the upset.

Don't give any ammunition to whatever critics Herrera has left.

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