MIAMI, FL - When the German referee blew the final whistle, the celebrations were to say the least, subdued. The look on the players’ faces was not one of jubilation, as we had seen the day before in Stockholm and St. Denis, and the next day in Montevideo. Mexican players looked like they had just successfully passed a kidney stone. If folks who live on the Border States felt a strong southern breeze, it was that huge collective sigh of relief from the FMF, along with their broadcast and corporate sponsors.
After a 9 month qualifying campaign that was easily Mexico’s worst since 1982, Mexico overwhelmed a New Zealand squad with 9 goals to punch their ticket for Brasil14. 5 of the 9 goals were scored by Oribe Peralta, including a 1st half hat trick in New Zealand. El Cepillo once again made another strong argument that he will take the field next June in Mexico’s starting XI.
He might be one of the few left standing.
Mexican coach, Miguel Herrera looked and sounded as if his tenure as Mexico’s coach had come to an end at Wellington’s stunning Westpac Stadium. His post-game responses sounded like they came from a man who knew his job was done, and it was time to move on to the next one. He was more excited to talk about the upcoming liguilla, in which he hopes his Club America squad will repeat as champs for the first time since Hugo Sanchez’ Pumas did it nearly ten years ago. He had no intention of heading down to Bahia for the draw next week.
Regardless of the somber mood surrounding Mexico’s qualification for their 14th World Cup, there are a few reasons for fans to maybe, just maybe, be a little more optimistic than they have been throughout the course of the Hex. The biggest, of course, is Peralta.
Peralta heads a group of forwards that is clearly Mexico’s deepest postion on the squad. Chicharito, Raul Jimenez, Aldo de Nigris, Giovani Dos Santos and Carlos Vela (if, of course) are all solid options. It has been a long time since Mexico has had this much talent at the glamour position. The World Cup coach, whoever he may be, will have his hands full deciding on who makes the final 23.
Mexico’s midfield was abhorrent during the hex, but both Victor Vucetich and Miguel Herrera leaned heavily on Leon’s Carlos “Gullit” Peña. Gullit looked awful playing for Chepo de la Torre in last summer’s Gold Cup, where Chepo’s conservative schemes were ill-suited for what Gullit does best. The new coaches, however, let Gullit do what he does best, which is spearhead the attack. He made Mexico’s midfield relevant instead of being an afterthought. He got the last goal in the New Zealand tie – no one deserved it more. Finding a midfield companion that can mesh well with Peña will be at the top of the new coach’s list.
Along with fixing the defense.
Fans of Mexico should reach for their heart pills if the Tri trots out in Brazil with the same back 3 that played the New Zealand series. Mexico’s depth at the back is as thin as the attack line is heavy. Even with that, the last thing Mexico wants to do next summer is get into a scoring contest.
Scoring goals, though, is what Mexico needed to do at the Azteca last week, and it was they needed to do early in Wellington to snuff out any hope the Kiwis had. In both cases, Oribe Peralta answered the call, just as he has for club and country the past few years.
Take a bow, Oribão.