All Whites have to beat more than 11 Mexican players

By Michael Brown

Jeremy Brockie (l), Ben Sigmund (c) and Tommy Smith. Photo / Getty Images.
Jeremy Brockie (l), Ben Sigmund (c) and Tommy Smith. Photo / Getty Images.

The Azteca Stadium has witnessed some of the biggest moments in World Cup history and it's in this imposing arena the All Whites hope they can keep their World Cup dreams alive.

Estadio Azteca was built in 1966 in time for the 1968 Olympics. It hosted Pele's last international in 1970, a brilliant performance when Brazil beat Italy 4-1 in the World Cup final, and saw Diego Maradona at his best and worst when he scored twice (one was the Hand of God goal, the other voted Goal of the Century by Fifa) against England in 1986.

When filled to its capacity of 105,000, it is a bubbling cauldron of noise, colour and smog. It's steeply banked seats are imposing and, sitting at 2200m, it's a lung-bursting experience for visiting players.

It's why it's been a fortress for Mexico for so long. They remained unbeaten there in World Cup qualifiers until 2001 and their 2-1 defeat to Honduras last month was only their second in more than 70 qualifiers throughout history.

The aura of it has dissipated slightly in recent times - Mexico emerged with only one win and three goals in five matches there during the Hexagonal - and the All Whites have to believe a result or narrow defeat is possible in the first leg. The two teams will meet again in Wellington on November 20.

``It was pretty intense,'' said All Whites coach Ricki Herbert, who witnessed Mexico's final home game against Panama last weekend. ``It's a very passionate part of the world.

``In any sporting code, you want to test yourself against the best in the best environments. And Mexico at the Azteca is certainly that.

``When I played at the World Cup [in 1982] we played arguably the best Brazilian team of all time. If you're not prepared to put yourself up against the best, that's disappointing and I know this group will be raring to go. We've got a chance, we're in the mix and we will certainly go there with the best of intentions.''

The All Whites will prepare in Los Angeles, gathering there no later than November 9 and flying late into Mexico City. It's a similar approach to the one they used in 2009, when they based themselves in Dubai before heading to Manama on the eve of the 0-0 draw with Bahrain.

The details of the first Mexico game are yet to be confirmed but it's been reported it will be at 2pm on November 13 (local time) when the heat and smog will be at its worst.

The All Whites have played El Tri twice in the last four years, going down 2-0 in Pasadena in 2010 and 3-0 in Denver in 2011. New Zealand won the only other match between the two sides when current All Whites manager Brian Turner scored a double in a 4-0 win in 1980.

The Mexicans are expected and will expect to win but they will come under enormous pressure. They are hugely grateful to the US for keeping their chances alive but it has been uncomfortable and veteran Rafael Marquez summed up the feeling among fans.

``The situation is lamentable,'' he was quoted as saying on goal.com. ``I hang my head in shame and it's embarrassing for us to qualify [for the playoff] like that.''

Failure against the All Whites is not an option.

- APNZ

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