Daniel Richardson

Daniel Richardson is a Wellington-based sports journalist for NZME. News Service.

Cunningham: All Whites will beat Mexico

New Phoenix signing Kenny Cunningham helped Costa Rica draw against Mexico at the Azteca in a June World Cup qualifier. Photo / AP
New Phoenix signing Kenny Cunningham helped Costa Rica draw against Mexico at the Azteca in a June World Cup qualifier. Photo / AP

Bold predictions are even more resounding when you don't expect to hear them.

New Wellington Phoenix winger Kenny Cunningham is a softly-spoken, personable type who has enjoyed his time in the capital after arriving from Bolivian club The Strongest. He's adjusting to the wind of Wellington and life in the A-League and, being a Costa Rican international, he also knows a thing or two about Central and North American football.

That's why it is notable when he predicts the All Whites will beat Mexico during their home-and-away play-off next month with a World Cup spot on the line.

"They are a good national team but right now they're not playing so good," Cunningham said of Mexico. "I said to the [All Whites players at the Phoenix], if you guys go with the mentality to win in Mexico you can beat them."

Cunningham is qualified to comment on the matter. With 10 caps for Costa Rica since his debut in 2011, Cunningham played against Mexico at the Azteca earlier this year when the Costa Ricans registered a 0-0 draw on their march towards qualification for next year's World Cup.

"The mentality for us when I went there with my national team was 'concentrate all the time on the game and be careful of what the people say during the game' ... I think New Zealand will beat Mexico."

The problem that faces the All Whites is that Mexico rarely lose at the Azteca. Granted, New Zealand could head away and hope for a draw but Cunningham has forecast better.

Mexico's national side are currently in a state of turmoil with managerial issues, while they're low on confidence given their lacklustre effort during the recent Concacaf qualifying series known as 'The Hex'.

Cunningham, 28, has an eye on being included in Costa Rica's squad for next year's global tournament.

"If I work very strong for the Phoenix and play good for the Phoenix, I will go next year to the World Cup."

His quest continues this afternoon when the Phoenix chase their first win of the A-League season against the Western Sydney Wanderers at Parramatta Stadium. The Phoenix began the season with a 2-1 loss to the Brisbane Roar at the Cake Tin last week but were without a quartet of All Whites.

"I was not happy because we lost the first game," Cunningham said. "But this week we have to get a win, we have to go for the three points."

The ongoing right back conundrum continues to plague Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick and he said he would again leave it late to pick his starter. Leo Bertos, Josh Brindell-South and Albert Riera are all potential options after Luke Adams was dropped following a poor debut against the Roar last week.

Bertos's fellow All Whites, Andrew Durante, Jeremy Brockie and Glen Moss, will all likely move straight back in to the starting line-up for the Phoenix who will start as underdogs against a strong Wanderers side. A sell-out crowd of 21,500 is expected at Parramatta Stadium.

Merrick welcomed that: "It's their first home game, it's a sell-out crowd and, as I've said earlier, I would much prefer our boys played against a full crowd like that rather than three people, a dog and a couple of seagulls." APNZ

- Herald on Sunday

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