With Mexico teetering on the brink of World Cup elimination but also heavily favored to squeeze in past New Zealand, their position is not an envious one.
Coming into their playoff matchup with the Oceanic winners this afternoon at at 3:15pm ET, the entire nation is on edge.
If they pull it off, there’s no fanfare, there’s no partying, only a giant sigh of relief.
The end result – a trip to the 2014 World Cup – would be the same as if they had dominated the Hexagonal round, the same as if they defeated rivals United States, the same as if they had scored loads of goals and mastered North America like they have so many times in the past.
Except this time around, they didn’t.
It all now rides on their two-legged playoff with a much lesser opponent, and that’s not always a good thing. Sometimes playing against a team with nothing to lose can be a death sentence.
In addition, Mexico’s fourth manager this year Miguel Herrera has chosen to only call in domestic players, leaving those with European clubs such as Javier Hernandez, Giovani dos Santos, Hector Moreno, and Andres Guardado to remain in Europe.
It’s hard to blame Herrera for making drastic changes. With those players, El Tri scored just seven times in its 10 hexagonal matches, held to a clean sheet in half of them.
On the other side of the coin, albeit against the likes of New Caldonia, Tahiti, and the Solomon Islands, the All Whites scored 17 times in just six matches via 10 different goalscorers in their final regional qualifying rounds.
However they will miss captain Winston Reid of West Ham this afternoon due to ankle injury, a massive blow to a team with little to no big-stage experience.
There’s a business aspect to this struggle as well. According to a report by ESPN’s Darren Rovell, clothing giants Adidas say their highest selling national team jersey sales in North America are the Mexican team, and a shocking loss by El Tri could cripple those numbers. In addition, Rovell estimates that the domestic economic difference between Mexico in or out of the World Cup could be as much as $1 billion.
So from the Azteca tonight, Mexico begins its chance to show the world not who they really are, but who they want to be again. They aren’t the high-flying, goal-smashing, attack-stifling powerhouse of CONCACAF any longer. Not at the moment, anyways.
But with a win over New Zealand, they can set themselves up for a trip to Brazil 2014 nonetheless, and begin the road to recovery. El Tri are in shambles, but if they can get the job done there’s a light at the end of this particular tunnel.