Most outside observers believed that New Zealand had little chance of surviving a showdown with Mexico at Estadio Azteca on Wednesday. Turns out that all of those people were spot on.
Analysts and cynics alike were quick to point out heading into Wednesday's match that this New Zealand side was not the same side that went through the 2010 World Cup without losing a single match (New Zealand drew their three contests of the group stage en route to elimination). That proved to be an understatement. The All Whites were thoroughly dominated from the very go on Wednesday, hardly looking like a nation worthy of earning an invitation to world football's biggest summer bash.
Truth be told, this match could have been 5-0 El Tri at the halftime break. It probably would have been if not for the heroic performance of New Zealand goalkeeper Glen Moss. Moss was a man of the match candidate at the half-hour mark, having produced multiple highlight reel saves that kept the hosts off the scoreboard. A miracle draw was looking more and more possible as the first half rolled on.
Then came the 32nd minute and an unintentional assist from New Zealand. Andrew Durante failed to hold a tight enough offside trap, and he followed that up by running into Moss as a ball was played into the penalty area. Durante played a header right to the feet of the unmarked Paul Aguilar, who coolly slotted home the first tally of the match.
Mexico went two goals to the good eight minutes later. Carlos Pena headed a corner that had been delivered into the center of the box toward the far post, where one New Zealand defender was attempting to mark two Mexican players. Shocking to nobody, that proved to be ineffective. Raúl Jiménez nodded the ball across the goalline, and Mexico took a 2-0 lead into the break.
El Tri would need but three minutes after halftime to unofficially punch their ticket to Brazil. Rafa Marquez played a gorgeous over the top diagonal ball about 30 yards down the field, one that was tracked down by Miguel Layun. Layun crossed for Oribe Peralta, and Peralta made it 3-0.
The rout was on. Peralta and Marquez both scored in the final ten minutes to give Mexico a five-goal cushion. Christian James made sure that New Zealand wouldn't have to make the long flight back home having been shut out, when, thanks to the left goalpost, his attempt slowly rolled across the line to give the visitors a consolation goal. A team would normally be overjoyed with netting an away goal in a playoff against Mexico.
Odds are that tally won't matter much in this instance. I somehow don't see New Zealand beating Mexico 4-0 when these two teams meet next week.
And what of Graham Zusi? The American who scored that fateful goal against Panama last month that kept Mexico's World Cup dreams alive was the victim of more than a little abuse from US fans upset that their bitter rivals were headed to Brazil. Some took to Twitter to let Zusi know how they felt:
“I blame @gzusi.”
“Its all your fault @gzusi, now Mexico is in the world cup.”
“Well, let's just hope Graham Zusi's folly doesn't come back to haunt USA.”
“And graham zusi this is why I hate you..”
There were also, of course, the expected f-bombs that I won't bother posting here.
So Mexico are, minus what would be maybe the biggest shock in the history of the sport itself, a World Cup country again, and all is right with the world. El Tri's dominance over lowly New Zealand doesn't change the fact that Mexico needed the US to even have a chance to play today. There's no way this all comes back to bite the United States Men's National Team.
Nope, no way at all.