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

Football: All Whites set new benchmark

Alan Pulido and Andrew Durante embrace after Mexico's 2-1 win over the All Whites. Photo / photosport.nz
Alan Pulido and Andrew Durante embrace after Mexico's 2-1 win over the All Whites. Photo / photosport.nz

The All Whites have set a new benchmark with their display in today's 2-1 defeat to Mexico.

It was easily their best performance in the Anthony Hudson era, and needs to be the template for their important matches in the next 12 months.

After a mix of sweet and sour over the last two years, the All Whites showed what they are capable of in Nashville, when they have a full strength side and play to their potential.

Granted, Mexico had not selected most of their European based players, but their domestic depth means any EL Tri team will be a strong side.

In the end Mexico were worthy winners but this match was a genuine contest. That was in stark contrast to previous encounters between these two sides, when New Zealand tended to camp in their own half and hang on grimly, and the game resembled something from the Battle of the Alamo.

Though Mexico dominated possession yesterday, the world No15 ranked side were never completely comfortable, with New Zealand's high pressing strategy cutting down time and space for their passing game.

The All Whites (world No88) came out of their shells in the second half, equalising through Marco Rojas then forcing a succession of corners in the final 20 minutes of the match.

"To come away from home, play in front of a Mexican crowd and put Mexico under pressure like that makes me very proud," said All Whites coach Anthony Hudson. "Really, we should have been beaten comfortably given the rankings. From our point of view, this was a massive performance and after the game quite a few of us were disappointed we didn't get a result."

The All Whites had the best opportunity of the first half when Rojas beat two Mexican defenders with a lovely piece of skill, only to mishit his shot from 12 yards.

Mexico took a fortuitous lead in the 29th minute, when the referee found a penalty after winger Hirving Lozano fell inside the area with little evidence of contact.

But the All Whites conjured up an impressive equaliser just after halftime, with Rojas poking home a pinpoint Deklan Wynne cross after Chris Wood's vision had opened up the Mexican defence. New Zealand had several half chances, before Marco Fabian's 57th minute strike - after some pinball passing on the edge of the All Whites area - regained the initiative for Mexico.

Winston Reid demonstrated his importance after time off the international scene, with his physical presence, pace and anticipation a vital boost to the New Zealand cause. The central defensive trio of Reid, Michael Boxall and Themi Tzimopoulos coped well with Mexico's attacking threats, though they were caught ball watching for Mexico's second goal. Wynne reinforced his strong reputation while fellow fullback Liam Graham had an impressive debut.

- NZ Herald

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