Mexico's Oribe Peralta celebrates a goal against New Zealand during… (John Cowpland / Associated…)
Mexico christened a new soccer star and it may have found a new manager as well Wednesday when Oribe Peralta’s three first-half goals sparked Coach Miguel Herrera’s team to a 4-2 win over New Zealand, qualifying Mexico for next summer’s World Cup in Brazil.
Peralta, who scored twice in the second half of Mexico’s 5-1 win in Mexico City last week, had a hat trick in the first 33 minutes of the return leg in Wellington as El Tri swamped New Zealand, 9-3, on aggregate goals in the two-match intercontinental playoff.
That earned it the 31st berth in the 32-team World Cup field. The final spot will be awarded Wednesday night when Uruguay and Jordan meet in the second leg of their playoff in Uruguay.
On the first goal, in the 14th minute, a Carlos Pena through ball found Peralta on the edge of the six-yard box and the Santos Laguna striker tapped the ball home with his left foot. The second came at the end of a fast break 15 minutes later with Peralta taking a bending cross from Miguel Layun in the center of the box and knocking it in with his right foot.
Peralta made it 3-0 four minutes after that, latching on to another deft pass from Pena in the center of the box and booting it into the lower left-hand corner for his 10th goal in nine games with the national team. The goal was also Mexico’s eighth in 123 minutes against New Zealand; in 10 games in the hexagonal round of World Cup qualifiers, Mexico scored just seven times.
Mexico also went through three coaches in the final four games of CONCACAF qualifying, when El Tri looked timid and uncertain while finishing fourth in the six-team table. That wasn’t good enough to win an automatic berth in Brazil but it did qualify Mexico for a last-ditch intercontinental playoff with a World Cup spot on the line.
It played with confidence and determination in those two matches, partly because Herrera, manager of Club America in Mexico’s domestic Liga MX, brought 10 of his players with him to the national team.
Now that Herrera has gotten Mexico to Brazil, though, the question is will he go with it? Herrera was given the national team job on a two-game interim basis, but after his success in rescuing Mexico’s flagging World Cup hopes, it seems likely he’ll be named the full-time manager when the country’s soccer federation meets to debate the matter early next month.
While Herrera was getting his start as a national team coach Wednesday, Ricki Herbert, who played in one World Cup and coached in another for New Zealand, stepped down as manager after Wednesday’s loss.
Though his team lost, his players tried to send him off with some final fond memories, scoring twice in the final 10 minutes. Chris James got the first on a penalty kick in the 80th minute, and Rory Fallon added the second three minutes later.
But Mexico short-circuited the comeback when Pena found the back of the net in the 87th minute.
Although the teams were basically even in terms of possession, Mexico had a big edge in shots, 22-13, and had twice as many shots on goal, 13 to 6 for New Zealand.