Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Soccer: Mexico slip up a worry for All Whites

The All Whites could face the nightmare scenario of a playoff with Mexico in November, after the latest round of World Cup qualification games yesterday saw the North American giants drop to fourth in the CONCACAF playoffs.

Despite their current form slump - they lost 2-1 at home yesterday to Honduras and have won just one game (and scored only four goals) in their seven matches to date in the six-team playoffs - they would still be formidable opponents.

Mexico have incredible pedigree (they have qualified for 14 World Cups) and the prospect of facing La Verde in the Azteca stadium would be a daunting one. The 105,000 capacity stadium is the third largest football arena in the world and yesterday's loss was just their second in 77 World Cup qualification matches at the venue.

Privately, the All Whites' brain trust would prefer to face Honduras, who they have previously had some success against, or Panama, which would be the least intimidating away venue. Panama have also never qualified for a World Cup, which would add to their anxiety at the final hurdle.

The Mexicans need points from their next game against the United States (away) this week, otherwise they will be staring at the prospect of missing out on the top three automatic qualification places.

It wasn't meant to be this way. The US and Mexico were meant to take the top two spots, with Costa Rica, Honduras and Panama battling for third position. Instead, Costa Rica (14 points) are handily positioned at the top of the group just above the US (13 points) and Honduras (10 points) have a crucial two-point advantage over Mexico (eight points), with Panama (seven points) still in touch in fifth place.

The US have the advantage of two of their last three games at home, as do Honduras, who finish their qualification series with a match against cellar dwellers Jamaica. Mexico need to travel to the US and Costa Rica, though by the time of they play in San Jose, the Costa Ricans may have already qualified.

•Miroslav Klose and Cristiano Ronaldo stole the limelight in Europe's World Cup qualifying fixtures yesterday that saw several nations edge closer to a place at the finals in Brazil.

Veteran Klose set Germany on the way to a 3-0 win against neighbours Austria which keeps them firmly in control of Group C, while Ronaldo netted a hat-trick as Portugal came from behind to triumph 4-2 in Northern Ireland.

Reigning world champions Spain eased to a 2-0 win in Finland, while Italy are just one more victory away from qualifying after a 1-0 defeat of Bulgaria in Palermo, but it was not all plain sailing for the big boys, with the Netherlands having to scramble to draw 2-2 in Estonia.

England took control of Group H thanks to their 4-0 defeat of whipping boys Moldova while Belgium are on the brink of qualifying from Group A after a 2-0 win in Scotland.

- Herald on Sunday

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