Backed into a corner by their CONCACAF counterparts since March, Mexico took out eight months of frustrations on New Zealand on Wednesday, just when it counted the most.
Paul Aguilar and Raúl Jiménez scored goals eight minutes apart in the first half and Oribe Peralta added two more after the break as a desperate El Tri squad pummeled New Zealand 5-1 in the first leg of the teams’ World Cup intercontinental playoff series at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.
Former New York Red Bulls defender Rafa Márquez punctuated the win with a goal off a Mexico corner kick in the 83rd minute, his 14th goal with Mexico in his 115th career appearance.
The teams will conclude the series on Nov. 20 in Wellington, home of the Oceania champs. But El Tri hold almost all the cards with a berth in Brazil on the line, thanks to a roster made up of entirely Liga MX players and a last-resort coach in Club América's Miguel Herrera, who used seven players from his own club in the starting lineup to get the job done.
Chris James scored the lone goal in the 85th minute for New Zealand, who managed just five shots in the match and rarely threatened to crack a Mexico defense anchored by the 34-year-old Márquez.
Forced to play in the do-or-die series following a lackluster CONCACAF World Cup qualifying campaign and a fortuitous fourth-place finish in the region, Mexico looked confident in front of their home crowd from the outset against New Zealand. They scored just three total goals in five games at Azteca in the Hexagonal round, but took a deserved lead after a half hour.
Aguilar scored his third international goal in the 32nd minute after Kiwis defender Andrew Durante cleared a cross out while smashing into goalkeeper Glen Moss. The ball skipped to Aguilar, who surged in front of Kiwis defender Tommy Smith and promptly buried a left-footed shot into an open net for a 1-0 lead.
The edge doubled in the 40th minute, when a wide-open Jiménez thumped a header into the back of the net after Carlos Peña’s header off a Mexico corner kick caromed perfectly into Jiménez's path.
If not for some heroics from Moss, Mexico would have carried an insurmountable lead into the break. He punched out an acrobatic volley from Jiménez in the 18th minute, tipped a scorching shot from Maza Rodríguez off the crossbar in the 24th and then parried a Jiménez volley wide in the 39th.
Moss, however, had no chance at Peralta’s goal in the 48th minute, which put Mexico firmly into the driver’s seat. Miguel Layún’s cross from the left side found a wide open and surging Peralta, who coolly slotted a shot into the back of the net.
Peralta added his second goal in the 80th minute with a header off another assist from Layún, giving him eight goals in his past seven matches with El Tri heading into the second leg next week.