WELLINGTON (Reuters) - With their World Cup dreams hanging by a thread, New Zealand arrived home from Mexico on Saturday to begin preparations for the second leg in Wellington where they will need to play the game of their lives to overturn a 5-1 deficit.
The All Whites were hammered at the Azteca Stadium in their inter-confederation playoff on Wednesday, all but ensuring Mexico’s passage to next year’s finals in Brazil.
Coach Ricki Herbert and the players were in no mood to talk about the rout back at Wellington Airport on Saturday where they blanked the waiting local and Mexican media.
New Zealand will need to score at least four goals at a sold-out Wellington Regional Stadium on Wednesday to advance to their second successive finals and Herbert has no option but to go on the attack.
The All Whites kept nine players behind the ball to try to stymie the home side’s attacks at the Azteca, a tactic that had a mixed reception from pundits and fans in New Zealand.
Several former players felt the tactics had been too defensive, while the selection of 37-year-old Ivan Vicelich and the club-less Tony Lochhead and Jeremy Christie was questioned.
Others, however, pointed out that it had taken the home side more than 30 minutes to break down New Zealand’s defense and the first goal had come from an error when goalkeeper Glen Moss and defender Andrew Durante collided while trying to clear the ball.
Herbert will be forced to rejig his defense on Wednesday as Vicelich and Leo Bertos, who played as a wingback, will miss the match after receiving yellow cards in Mexico City.
Defenders Bill Tuiloma and Ben Sigmund playing in a traditional back four with Marco Rojas, Chris James, who scored New Zealand’s goal in Mexico City, and Shane Smeltz have been touted as likely inclusions to provide a more attacking lineup.
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Peter Rutherford