Oribe Peralta

Nightmare finally over: Mexico cruises in New Zealand, becomes the 31st team to qualify for 2014 World Cup


The disappointment of CONCACAF’s final round is officially meaningless. Three wins in 10 to close qualifying? It doesn’t matter, nor does the four-coach carousel that left Mexico in turmoil or El Tri’s need to have their World Cup lives saved by the arch rival Americans. After their two-legged playoff romp of Oceania champion New Zealand, the only thing that matter to Mexico soccer are six words: El Tri are going to Brazil.

Fueled by a first half hat trick from Santos Laguna’s Oribe Peralta, Mexico became the 31st team to qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, the ease of their playoff’s second leg in Wellington better described by the tie’s aggregate score than the 4-2 victory Miguel Herrera’s team collected on Wednesday. Finishing their 180 minutes against the All Whites with a 9-3, Mexico easily qualified for a sixth straight World Cup.

It was just over a month ago that those World Cup hopes were on life support, Mexico’s impending loss in Costa Rica on CONCACAF’s last qualifying match day set to eliminate the team as Panama held on to a 2-1 lead over the United States. Then, in stoppage time in Panama City, a Graham Zusi goal pulled the U.S. even, a result that would allow Mexico to stay ahead of the Canaleros to claim CONCACAF’s playoff spot. When Aron Johansson gave the U.S. a win one minute later, Mexico had survived, if miraculously so.

Now, 36 days later, Mexico’s been reborn, a transformation that’s involved wholesale changes by Herrera, hired after the team’s loss in Costa Rica. Coming off a win last week in Mexico City, those changes were again evidence in the team’s starting XI – the same 5-3-2 formation that produced a 5-1 win at Estadio Azteca. Conversely, New Zealand made five changes, Ricky Herbert sacrificing a defender for an attacker as the All White set up to chase goals.

Yet as if picking up from leg one, it only took 14 minutes for Mexico to increase their lead. Whereas El Tri had failed to beat Glen Moss minutes earlier, a move orchestrated by Carlos  Pena and Oribe Peralta eventually beat the Wellington Phoenix goalkeeper for the opener. Running across New Zealand captain Tommy Smith and behind the All Whites line, Peralta scooped Pena’s through ball over a sliding Moss from six yards out, the ball descending down and over the goal line to make it 6-1.

By the 22nd minute, when a ball threaded through the defense forced Moss into a point-blank stop on Raúl Jiménez, Mexico was using New Zealand’s desperation to their advantage, turnovers forced at the edge of their defensive third rewarded with space in midfield. Although the Kiwis were able to pose an occasional threat, as they did through Jeremy Brockie in the 24th minute, Mexico were still generating the better chances. In the 29th minute, Miguel Layún found an unmarked Peralta at the top of the six-yard box for an embarrassingly easy goal.

source: AP
Miguel Herrera will now return to his job with Club América, but after leading Mexico through their World Cup qualifying playoff, the interim boss is expected to be offered the permanent position ahead of Brazil 2014 (Photo: AP Photo.)

Four minutes later, Peralta had his hat trick, a goal created after a New Zealand turnover deep in their own end allowed Pena to get behind the defense. Replicating goal number two, Mexico increased their overall lead to seven with Peralta’s left-footed finish from just outside the six.

Even when things broke right for New Zealand, it was to no avail. In the 39th minute, Mexico goalkeeper Moises Muñoz conceded a penalty kick – a chance for the Kiwis to give the packed stands at Westpac Stadium reason to buzz going into halftime. Instead, Brockie served a thigh high shot well inside the left post, allowing Muñoz to keep it 3-0.

A second half played at a gallop saw New Zealand dominate possession but initially generate few chances on Muñoz, Mexican energies funneled into defense able to neuter any threat the All Whites posed from their myriad corner kicks. Despite the hosts’ control of the ball, attention was on whether Perelta would get a fourth, not whether Herbert’s side would get their consolation.

In the 72nd minute, Peralta nearly scored a fourth, a ball headed for goal kept out by a New Zealand defender. In the 75th, a cross from the right just hopped over Peralta’s boot, the Man of the Match again unmarked at the edge of the six-yard box. Replaced in the 76th minute, Peralta would have to content himself with the mere three goals.

In the 80th minute, New Zealand began collecting their small but (if the crowd’s raucous reaction was any indication) important consolation, a generously given penalty off a Rafa Marquez handball allowing Chris James to get the All Whites on the board. Finishing high into the right of goal, James cut the Kiwis’s deficit to two, with a volleyed conversion by Brockie off an 83rd minute cross bringing the hosts within one on the night. When Pena added Mexico’s final goal in the 87th minute, however, the air left had once again left the New Zealand sails.

Ultimately the story was less New Zealand’s silver lining than Mexico’s rebirth, with players like Peralta casting further doubt on the importance of European-based players to Mexico’s cause. Herrera controversially omitted all foreign-based talents from has playoff squads, leaving the likes of Javier Hernandez, Andres Guardado, and Giovani Dos Santos with their English and Spanish clubs. But in Peralta, Pena, and Raúl Jiménez, Herrera found players that were capable of performing to Mexico’s standards, and while the seleccion has seven months to figure out how to re-integrate those superior talents, Herrera’s point was proven. Mexico has enough talent not to be beholden to reputations.

Ideally, El Tri’s playoff success would serve as a wakeup call for the collection of talented but underperforming stars that once looked like a golden generation. But if the Hernandez and Dos Santoses of the world can’t reestablish their pre-qualifying form, Herrera has given the seleccion a way to be competitive next summer. At least, the home-based crew has proved more willing to fight than the superstars they replaced, a fight that’s qualified Mexico for another World Cup.

Juan Carlos Osorio to become new Mexico boss

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Mexico looks to have found a new manager in Juan Carlos Osorio.

Osorio, who had stints managing in Major League Soccer with the Chicago Fire and New York Red Bulls, was most recently coaching in Brazil with Sao Paulo.

However, the Brazilian club released a statement today that Osorio had decided to step down from his position in order to take the Mexico job.

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Following Miguel Herrera’s firing in July, Ricardo Ferretti was named interim manager of El Tri, and will coach the side in Saturday’s CONCACAF playoff match against the United States. However, Ferretti has stated he will not stay with Mexico past that match, and will return to Liga MX, where he serves as manager of Tigres UANL.

Osorio had recently been linked with the Mexico job, but said he would take his time in making a decision.

His only other exposure to Mexican football came during a short stint in Liga MX managing Puebla. He lasted just seven matches before resigning and returning to manage in his native Colombia.

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He was in line to take charge of the Honduras national team in 2011, but he was unable to get out of the contract with the Colombian team he was managing at the time.

There has been no official confirmation of the hiring from the Mexican Federation.

Benzema and Benitez in a war of words at Real Madrid

MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 26: Head coach Rafael Benitez (R) of Real Madrid CF gives instructions to his player Karim Benzema (L) during the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and Malaga CF at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on September 26, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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Karim Benzema has scored six goals in his eight appearances for Real Madrid this season, and is currently the top scorer in La Liga.

Despite being in great form, Benzema has continuously been substituted by manager Rafa Benitez, which has upset the French striker.

Benzema opened the scoring for Real in the Madrid derby over the weekend, but was taken off in the 77th minute. Atletico would go on to score minutes later as the match ended in a 1-1 draw.

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Speaking after the game, Benzema said he was “fed up” with being taken off, but will continue to work to help his team.

Substitutions are what the coach decides, I’m just there to help my teammates.

It’s true I’m fed up of being taken off. I’m calm and will continue to work so I’m not always subtituted. He took me off to get a result, for defensive reasons.

It’s true that the electronic board always shows the No.9. Ask Benitez why that is.

When told about Benzema’s comments, Benitez said he made the change for tactical reasons, as Real was in the lead and he replaced the striker with a more defensive-minded player in midfielder Mateo Kovacic.

I needed to give the team some balance at that point in the game. I’m a huge fan of Benzema. If I were Karim, I’d also be angry at being taken off when I thought I was playing well and was on a great run of form.

What I’d do if I were Karim is score more goals so that next time I don’t have to be taken off and can say, ‘Hey, here I am.’

Benitez’s response comes off as a backhanded compliment, asking Benzema to “score more goals,” despite the player leading La Liga in scoring. In fact, Benzema has averaged a goal every 84 minutes this season, an incredible strike rate.

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Over the summer, Benzema was linked with a move away from Real Madrid, but he constantly denied the rumors and said he never thought about leaving the club, which he called the best in the world. Just a few matches into the new season, there may be some trouble in paradise.