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All or nothing for El Tri

By Jose Romero - Nov 13, 2013

Somehow, believe it or not, it’s come down to one week for Mexico’s troubled national soccer team.

Who could have predicted that El Tri’s World Cup chances would come down to a two-leg playoff that would span the Pacific Ocean? Who could have guessed that Mexico – MEXICO – would be in position to miss the 2014 World Cup in Brazil?

It was supposed to be a given. Mexico and the U.S. would represent CONCACAF, and the other four nations in the hexagonal would battle it out for the third automatic berth and the play-in spot against New Zealand. The U.S. more than did its job and won the top spot.  Mexico lost the second and third spots to Costa Rica and Honduras, and on Wednesday, it must win.

The first leg is in Mexico City. Interim coach Miguel Herrera didn’t even bother to call in any European-based players. He’s either so certain Mexico will dominate the home portion of the playoff without Chicharito or Andres Guardado, among others, or he feels the altitude will choke the Kiwis from the flatlands of the island nation and help Mexico build a sizable lead.

Herrera is going with a Mexican-based team. Guys he feels know each other and will play well together. The idea is to build a big lead in el D.F., than fly to Wellington and keep the score close to punch a ticket to Brazil.

Good thought, except Mexico isn’t playing to so well on home turf. On any turf, really, though a recent friendly win in San Diego over Finland might have helped the team’s confidence a bit. Goals were very difficult to come by during qualifying. 

A lot is riding on this result. A World Cup without Mexico? Hard to imagine. ESPN already has crews on the ground in Brazil getting ready for the arrival of El Tri for the World Cup next June, and has invested heavily in the rights to show matches to fans in the U.S., including today's. 

Tickets for potential Mexico matches are being snapped up quickly in anticipation of the team’s presence in Brazil.

To say nothing of the pressure on the team to get in. A year and a half ago, Mexico won the Olympic gold medal in London and expectations had skyrocketed with the young talent mixing with solid veterans. People were talking about Mexico perhaps making its deepest run ever in the World Cup.

But there is no chance of that if Mexico isn't even in Brazil.

Mexico is better than New Zealand on paper. It truly should advance based on talent alone. But New Zealand is eager to return to the world stage after an appearance in South Africa in 2010. And it will be looking forward to shocking the world.

The way Mexico has played in World Cup qualifiers, it almost wouldn’t be much of a shock if  El Tri lost to New Zealand. But if it happens, it will be disastrous for a nation that prides itself on its soccer and will ruin a lot of people’s travel plans. 

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