Mexico took a huge step toward next year’s World Cup finals, shaking off recent bad form to pummel New Zealand 5-1 on Wednesday in the first leg of the home-and-away playoff series.
Playing in Mexico City’s imposing Azteca Stadium, El Tri delivered on their manager Miguel Herrera’s pregame call to take a big goal advantage into the second leg in New Zealand on Wednesday next week.
It was a massive turnaround for Mexico, who barely made it to the play-off after struggling in their North and Central America, and Caribbean regional group, finishing fourth out of six teams.
“We had a debt [to the fans] and we have not finished paying it,” said Herrera, who last month became Mexico’s fourth manager in six weeks.
After winning just twice and scoring a paltry seven goals in 10 games within the CONCACAF final group, Mexico looked like a revived team as they came out charging against the All Whites.
Goalkeeper Glen Moss made several valiant saves, but Mexico’s relentless attack was too much, with Santos forward Oribe Peralta leading the charge with a brace.
Defender Paul Aguilar opened the scoring when he volleyed home a ball deflected inside the New Zealand area in the 31st minute.
Club America teammate and striker Raul Jimenez followed eight minutes later with a header following a corner-kick.
Peralta scored his first goal three minutes into the second half, tapping in a nifty low cross from Miguel Arturo Layun, who gave New Zealand all kinds of problems on the left wing.
Layun gave Peralta his second goal in the 80th minute, this time with a high cross that the forward headed out of Moss’s reach into the left corner of the net.
Former Barcelona defender Rafael Marquez, the 34-year-old who now plays for Mexican club Leon, scored the fifth goal with a header from a corner-kick in the 84th minute.
New Zealand’s Chris James scored a consolation goal a minute later, but it was too late to do any damage.
Herrera shook things up after taking over, calling up only domestic league players while leaving out Europe-based stars such as Manchester United’s Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and Villareal’s Giovani dos Santos.
On loan from Club America, who he coached to a Mexican league title this year, Herrera fielded seven players from his Mexico City team against New Zealand.
The outspoken manager had voiced confidence that Mexico would win, even asking his squad to score at least three goals to take them closer to Brazil next year.
New Zealand, who made it to the 2010 World Cup after a memorable playoff victory against Bahrain, had hoped to keep it close, but Mexico were too strong.
Mexico have played in 14 of the last 19 World Cups while New Zealand have only appeared twice, making them massive underdogs against the CONCACAF giants.
The All Whites were missing their captain and key defender Winston Reid, who was ruled out of the play-off due to an ankle injury he suffered with his English Premier League club West Ham.
“The public probably saw the Mexican team that they are used to seeing ... and they really delivered tonight and I think we contributed to helping that,” said New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert, adding that the team struggled in areas where “normally we are very strong.”
“We’re going to make it as tough as we can in Wellington,” he said.