By FRANCO PANIZO
Mexico may still be alive in World Cup qualifying thanks to the U.S. Men’s National Team, but reaching next summer’s prestigious tournament now falls squarely on El Tri’s shoulders.
The beginning of the end of Mexico’s troubled and forgettable 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign is set to get underway on Wednesday afternoon, as El Tri host New Zealand in the first match of their two-legged playoff series at Estadio Azteca. The Mexicans are favored to secure qualification to Brazil, but the same was believed of them at the start of the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying before relying on a late come-from-behind U.S. win over Panama to avoid a disastrous elimination on the final round of matches in the region.
Questions still abound for the Mexico, who is under the guidance of its fourth head coach in the past two months in Miguel Herrera and whose squad is filled with only domestic-based players. How will an El Tri team whose mental psyche has become the subject of intense criticism fare against a New Zealand side with nowhere near as much pressure is chief among those questions and one that Mexico will be hoping to answer positively.
El Tri will be playing the first match of the series in their famed Estadio Azteca, but the stadium has recently resembled a house made of straw or wood ready to be blown down at any given moment more than the fortress that it has built a reputation on.
During the last round of qualifying. Mexico struggled to score goals, much less win, at home and that should give New Zealand more than enough confidence as they step into a hostile environment. The All Whites are unlikely to go toe to to with an El Tri side that knows it has been given a golden opportunity to rid of all its past troubles, but a defend-and-counter approach could work, especially if Mexico once again struggle to break down its opponent.
It is up to the Mexicans now to find a way, any way, to reach the 2014 World Cup. They have fumbled precious opportunities time and again this year, but a victory at home on Wednesday would likely erase those thoughts for the mean time while also moving them closer to the direction they want to be in.
What do you think of Mexico’s series vs. New Zealand? Who do you see winning the World Cup berth? How do you see the game at Azteca playing out?
Share your thoughts below.