Mexico beats New Zealand 5-1 in first-leg playoff

Mexico swept to a 5-1 victory over New Zealand in the first leg
of their intercontinental playoff on Wednesday to become the
overwhelming favorite for a place at next year’s World Cup
finals.

Paul Aguilar put Mexico ahead in the 32nd minute and Raul
Jimenez made 2-0 before the break. Oribe Peralta added two more in
the second half before Rafael Marquez scored in the 84th and Chris
James grabbed a consolation goal for New Zealand a minute
later.

Mexico, which was lucky to reach the playoff, now just needs to
finish the job in the second leg next Wednesday in Wellington, New
Zealand.

”We’re going to go there like the score is 0-0, like we need a
winning goal,” Mexico coach Miguel Herrera said.

Mexico scored only seven goals in 10 qualifying games, but broke
through under new coach Herrera. Herrera, the fourth Mexico coach
in two months, used only players based in the national league,
omitting stars like Javier Hernandez of Manchester United.

That focus on domestic league players was partly to deal with
Mexico City’s altitude of 2,240 meters (7,350 feet), which seemed
to fatigue New Zealand.

Herrera, who also coaches Mexican club America, was hired for
only the two playoff matches, declined to speculate about his
future.

”I am the coach for two games, and I won an important one,”
Herrera said. ”Afterward they (Mexican football federation) will
decide and we hope they make the right decision. One could put
together a sensational team.”

Mexico finished behind the United States, Costa Rica and
Honduras in CONCACAF qualifying, with those three advancing
automatically to Brazil. Mexico only secured fourth place after the
United States scored two late goals last month to defeat Panama –
which was winning at the time and would have reached the
playoff.

Aguilar broke the deadlock by chipping in from 10 meters (yards)
after keeper Glen Moss was caught off his line and Jimenez found
the net eight minutes later with a close-range header after
threatening to score several times.

Only Moss, who made several acrobatic saves, kept Mexico from
scoring more in the first half at Azteca stadium.

Moss punched away a shot from Jimenez in the 18th, which nearly
crossed the line. In the 24th, Francisco Rodriguez hit the
crossbar, and in the 27th Moss stopped Jimenez’s shot from
point-blank range.

Peralta put the match beyond New Zealand’s reach just three
minutes after the re-start, collecting a cross from the left and
slotting home from six meters (yards), and then scored his second
with an 80th-minute header. Marquez then nodded home Mexico’s
fifth, before James scored with a volley off the post.

It was the second one-sided victory of the day. Earlier, Uruguay
hammered Jordan 5-0 away in another intercontinental playoff for
next year’s World Cup in Brazil.