Mexico qualified for the World Cup after beating New Zealand 4-2 in the second leg of an intercontinental playoff yesterday, bringing an end to one of its most troubled and divisive qualifying campaigns.
Striker Oribe Peralta followed his double in the opening leg with a hat-trick in Wellington to send his team to Brazil with an emphatic performance that left memories of recent difficulties at least partly erased. Mexico advanced with an aggregate score of 9-3.
Mexico shed three coaches during a 10-match campaign in the CONCACAF confederation, during which it won only two games and scored just seven goals to finish fourth and was forced to face the trial of a playoff with Oceania champions New Zealand for a World Cup spot.
Under Miguel Herrera, loaned to the national team by the Mexican League’s Club America, El Tri convincingly beat New Zealand both home and away to keep up its record as one of the most consistent of World Cup qualifiers.
“We were expecting to be in the World Cup a long time ago, but it wasn’t like that,” Mexican keeper Moise Munoz said. “So we had to play a couple of games more to be there. It was really tough and we expected it to be tough here in New Zealand. They fought like warriors to the last minute and they deserve the credit also.”
Herrera chose not to select players based in Europe or elsewhere for his playoff against New Zealand, naming a starting lineup of locally-based players which included seven players from his own club. His team justified that policy and Herrera, having ended a period of instability in Mexico soccer, now hopes to be rewarded with a longer-term contract.
Peralta had a hat-trick before halftime as Mexico cut to pieces New Zealand’s defense which, after being too deep in Mexico, pushed too far forward yesterday and was consistently exposed.
Mexico opened up New Zealand on the flanks and, when they centered possession, found Peralta unopposed.
Peralta scored in the 14th minute after taking a pass from Juan-Carlos Medina and chipping over oncoming goalkeeper Glen Moss. He scored again in the 28th minute when New Zealand was exposed on the left flank and for a third time in the 33rd minute.
New Zealand pulled a goal back when Chris James scored from the penalty spot in the 79th minute.
Striker Rory Fallon, whose goal against Bahrain on the same ground sent New Zealand to the 2010 World Cup, scored four minutes later when he side-footed a close-range shot wide of Munoz.
Carlos Pena then sealed the win for Mexico with a goal five minutes from full time.
“We’re just a bit disappointed we couldn’t get that equalizer,” New Zealand captain Tommy Smith said. “Obviously we strung a few more passes together tonight and hopefully that bodes well for the future.”
New Zealand had one scoring chance in the first half from a penalty in the 38th minute when striker Jeremy Brockie hurled himself to the ground at the feet of Munoz. The goalkeeper calmly picked himself up and saved Brockie’s shot, leaving the New Zealand striker without a goal in 41 international appearances.