Mexico passed through them. They used long through balls, practically jamming it down the All Whites' throats. They dominated on set pieces. They defended with almost profound ease. They tripled their opponents' possession. And barring one the most unbelievable comebacks in the history of sports, Mexico just qualified for the 2014 Brazil World Cup. But this isn't about the Mexican national team.
It's about New Zealand. Because it's rare when to watch an underdog that you know is undermanned, outgunned, that you know is probably about to catch an ass-whooping, and still be left shocked by how bad, how incompetent they are. But...that team was bad.
The narrative, of course, is going to be about how Mexico got their shit together in time, how they came together under manager Miguel Herrera, and how team of all Mexican league players righted the wrong of El Tri's disastrous Hex by beating the Oceania champions, 5-1. But we don't even know that. All we know is that New Zealand, right now, today, are an embarrassment of a soccer team.
If you look at the highlights above, you see that Mexico scored a wide array of goals, including a few that are already being uploaded into highlight reels. But what you don't see in any of the goals is a New Zealand player anywhere near a Mexican goalscorer. They can't defend. Not only can they not defend, but it looked at times like they didn't know how.
New Zealand, which usually play a conservative 3-4-3, got even more conservative today, electing to take the pitch in a 5-2-3. In theory, if New Zealand ever got the ball, the wing backs would have joined the attack. But the All Whites weren't interested in having the ball. They were interested in parking the bus in front of their own six, planting their heels, and praying. Their best case scenario was to leave Azteca with a goalless draw.
Thing is, defending for 90 minutes is hard, really hard, even if your team is the best defensive team in the world. New Zealand's team is not. And that's OK.
Generally, to successfully play for a draw, a team has to pressure the ball and mark people. Sometimes, teams elect to compress without the ball, falling back, blanketing the grass within the shadow of their own posts, and conceding space to the opposing defenders to loft balls into an outnumbered attack. This can work, too, as long as you mark players. What a side can't do is refuse to pressure the ball or mark.
The third goal, scored by Oribe Peralta, is the best example of this. Mexican center back Rafa Márquez received the ball without pressure, looked up, and played a 60-yard diagonal pass over the top of the New Zealand defense to wing back Miguel Layún, who was unmarked. Layún was then able to control the ball, take a touch, and roll a ball across the top of the six to Peralta. Peralta, crashing the near post unmarked, was able to slam the ball home. It was an incredible goal, made more incredible when you realize that the Kiwis outnumbered the Mexicans in the 18, and it didn't even matter.
And basically, that's all you need to see. A bad team, which didn't have much hope of winning, sabotaged themselves through their own defense. Offensively, they probably sucked, too. It was hard to tell, because they kept passing to green jerseys in the brief moments they held possession. They did, however, muster a goal in the 85th minute, a couple minutes after the Mexican players ran off the pitch, danced in the locker room, jumped in their cars, drove to their houses, grabbed their computers, opened their search engines, and typed in Expedia. Technically, New Zealand can still qualify for the World Cup. They just have to beat Mexico 4-0 next week. Or, you know, by five or more.
Most likely, if something that ridiculous is to happen, their "star" striker Chris Wood would need to score. But he's accrued too many yellows after picking up one today, and he's suspended. New Zealand will have to defend a lot better, too. They won't, because their best center back, Winston Reid, is hurt, and two more players, Ivan Vicelich and Leo Bertos are also suspended after picking up a yellow. If this playoff wasn't over before it started, it definitely is now.