Mexico flirt with ignominy in NZ World Cup clash
By Carlos Calvo
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico's self-esteem as a soccer nation has taken a battering in the past two months, and to lose their intercontinental playoff to New Zealand and miss the 2014 World Cup would be the final indigity.
Yet if they continue to underperform, as they did in the CONCACAF group campaign, they risk becoming only the fourth Mexico team in history to fail to qualify for the finals.
Miguel Herrera, the stocky, tough-talking coach, is entrusted with salvaging the nation's pride in the two-leg playoff with the All Whites. The first leg is on Wednesday (2030 GMT) at the Azteca, where Mexico's recent form has been poor, with one win and three goals in four matches.
"We keep telling (the players) what we're playing for, the determination we need, the will to bring back the ticket so Mexico can go to the World Cup," Herrera told a news conference at the weekend.
"On Wednesday we'll be going all-out to get a good advantage. It's important not to concede a goal but also to get a lead," added Herrera, brought in on the basis of a fine year as coach of top Mexican club side America.
"We don't think (New Zealand) will be easy, but they also don't see us in the same light as (teams) they faced in their qualifiers.
The United States have challenged Mexico's status as top dog in the Concacaf region regularly over the past two decades, but Mexico, feeding off one of Latin America's strongest domestic league, have largely taken for granted the task of qualifying for the World Cup.
Only in 1934, 1974 and 1982 have they failed previously, adding to their absence in 1990 because of a FIFA-imposed ban. Continued...