Despite some late-game dramatics, in the end, it wasn’t very close.
The Mexican national team became the 31st team to qualify for the World Cup Final in Brazil next summer with a 4-2 win over New Zealand in Wellington. The aggregate score in the intercontinental home-and-away playoff was 9-3.
Striker Oribe Peralta, who performed well during qualifying whenever called on, scored the first three goals of the match by the 34th minute—giving him 5 in the two games against the winner of the Oceania region.
The hosts failed to capitalize on the scoring opportunities that they had. In the first half, Jeremy Brockie missed a penalty kick that was awarded on a questionable call.
It was perhaps coincidence that a few minutes after Peralta was pulled, New Zealand scored two quick goals, the first on a penalty kick in the 80th minute.
El Tri’s Carlos Peña scored an insurance goal late.
But the real man of the match was Miguel Herrera, Mexico’s fourth coach of the last three months, who was hired just for the two matches against New Zealand. Herrera’s major tactical decision was to tell the country’s European-based stars like Javier “Chicharito” Hernández and Giovanni Dos Santos to stay home. Instead, he called on a number of guys—including the entire defensive line apart from team captain Rafa Márquez—who played for him at Liga MX’s Club América.
Herrera may have helped motivate his team before the match by telling reporters that, while he had no doubt that El Tri would make it to Brazil, the country could no longer be considered among the best in the world.
"We expected it to be tough here in New Zealand," Mexico keeper Moisés Muñóz told reporters. "They fought like warriors to the last minute and they deserve the credit also."
In other qualifying matches yesterday, France completed an unlikely comeback, beating the Ukraine, 3-0, in Paris to win their playoff by an aggregate of 3-2. Les Bleus’ last goal, which sealed their passage to Brazil next summer, was widely reported as an own-goal by Ukraine defender Oleg Gusev, but replays showed that Mamadou Sakho, who plays for Liverpool in the Premier League, kneed the ball into the net.
In Stockholm, two of the greatest strikers in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, put on a scoring clinic, but in the end it was Ronaldo and Portugal getting the upper hand on Sweden, 3-2, to qualify. Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic notched all the goals.
From Europe, Greece and Croatia also wrapped up World Cup berths, as did Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Nigeria from Africa.
Uruguay would appear to have the 32nd and final spot at the Cup just about sewn up. They defeated Jordan, 5-0, in the first leg of their intercontinental playoff on Nov. 13 and play the return match today in Montevideo at 6 p.m. Eastern time.
The draw to determine the groupings for all teams takes place Friday, Dec. 6.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.