11/13/2013 02:17 pm ET

Mexico vs. New Zealand: 2014 World Cup Playoff Preview



New Zealand is all that stands in the way of Mexico and a place in the 2014 World Cup.

In 2012, crucial matches against New Zealand were unthinkable, and with the form Mexico was in would have been considered a walk in the park. However, a disastrous 2013 left El Tri teetering on the brink of missing the World Cup for the first time in over two decades.

Gone from the team, at least for this crucial playoff, are European-based stars like Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez, Giovani dos Santos and Andres Guardado, three of the key figures in El Tri's run to the 2011 Gold Cup title. Gone also is Jose Manuel 'Chepo' de la Torre, who served for nearly two years at the helm, along with the next two men charged with leading the team, Luis Fernando Tena and Víctor Manuel Vucetich.

In, for the time being, are a slew of domestic stars and a coach with an attacking philosophy and view to ending a dreadful year on a high note.

Mexico limped its way to a fourth-place finish in the CONCACAF Hexagonal, losing on the final matchday but getting a helping hand from its biggest rival, the United States, to hold on to a spot in this playoff tie against the winner of Oceania's World Cup qualifying group.

New Zealand, on the other hand, comes into the tie on the back of a strong qualifying campaign, albeit against lesser opposition.

The All Whites topped Oceania with six wins from six games and coasted into the intercontinental playoff tie against Mexico with relative ease. However, team captain Winston Reid will miss the clash due to an ankle injury sustained while training for Premier League club West Ham.

New Zealand lacks big-name star power, but in the team's run to this playoff tie it got a total of 17 goals over six games from 10 different goal scorers. A-League star Shane Smeltz scored three times, as did journeyman striker Chris Killen.

By contrast Mexico scored just seven times in 10 Hexagonal matches and was held without a goal in half its matches.

Herrera announced his starting team on Tuesday, with Raul Jimenez getting the nod up front beside Oribe Peralta to answer the only real question the manager had in his lineup selection.

The fortress that has always been Estadio Azteca, a place where Mexico has traditionally been dominant, has also been a slightly less daunting home venue for El Tri in 2013. Draws against the United States and Mexico, and a loss to Honduras, will give the Kiwi's some hope of heading to the home leg in good standing.



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