By Mike Slane, Goal.com
Mexico may have taken the long road, but the CONCACAF nation has officially qualified for the World Cup.
After a qualifying campaign that could only be described as disastrous, Mexico earned a spot in next summer's World Cup after holding off New Zealand in a 4-2 decision Wednesday in Wellington, just five days after cruising to a 5-1 victory over the Oceania champion in the first leg of the playoff in Mexico City.
Oribe Paralta, the hero in the first leg with a brace, continued his hot streak with a first-half hat trick to help Mexico avoid what would have been by far the worst loss in history for El Tri, which sneaked into the playoffs at the final minute of the final CONCACAF matchday thanks to the rival United States.
Despite once being regarded as the region's strongest side, Mexico ended the Hexagonal with a 2-5-3 record. With one game left to play in the Hex, El Tri lost to Costa Rica on the road but the U.S. scored late in its match against Panama to eliminate La Marea Roja and allow Mexico through.
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If Mexico had failed to qualify, it was widely reported that the nation and federation would have lost around $1 billion in sponsorship deals. Going through four coaches in two months, the federation chose Club America manager Miguel Herrera to save the team, and he didn't disappoint.
Despite playing with an all domestic-based roster, Herrera will no longer be questioned for leaving star players Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez and Giovani dos Santos in Europe for the New Zealand matches, especially after his Club America players stole the show in the playoffs.
There were 10 Club America players on Mexico's roster but no one stood out quite like Santos Laguna man Peralta, who has scored 11 goals in his last eight national team games.
Playing with the same starting lineup from the first game, Herrera's men attacked from the start, testing goalkeeper Glen Moss early and often. It took Peralta only 14 minutes to pick up his first goal of the match, 29 before his second and 33 before completing the hat trick.
In the opening minutes, Moss played a ball that was sent to the six-yard box by Carlos Pena and Peralta chipped it over the keeper. Later in the half, the forward fired in crosses from Miguel Layun and Pena.
Despite having their World Cup berth all but sealed, the Mexicans continued to put the pressure on a New Zealand side that lacked any sort of offensive attack until the very end. In the two games, the All Whites managed only three goals - two coming from midfielder Christian James and one from Rory Fallon.
New Zealand's Jeremy Brockie had a penalty kick saved in the first half, but James was money when given the opportunity to break the shutout in the 80th minute. In the 83rd, Fallon gave the home side more to cheer about when he got behind Mexico's defenders to beat keeper Moises Munoz.
At this point, the All Whites were playing for pride, but Pena made sure that Mexico wouldn't go home with a draw by capitalzing on a counterattack to score the night's final goal.
New Zealand is currently ranked 79th by FIFA, 55 places behind El Tri. While many questioned if the Mexicans could even get by The Whites, they exploded for an 3-1 aggregate win and will look to ride that momentum into their next international matchday scheduled for March.
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