After a year of hand-wringing and contemplation of national calamity, Mexico made it look awfully easy in the end.
El Tri officially booked the 31st out of 32 available spots in the 2014 World Cup with a dominant 4-2 win over New Zealand in the countries' World Cup qualifying playoff in Wellington, powered by Oribe Peralta's first-half hat trick. New Zealand made it a game late on with goals from Chris James and Rory Fallon, but Mexico's 5-1 win in the first leg of the series – which finished 9-3 on aggregate – made the goals all but academic.
Mexico head coach Miguel Herrera stuck with the same personnel and 5-3-2 formation from that big win at Estadio Azteca, which left the Kiwis needing a miracle in the home leg to reach their second straight World Cup and third overall.
Peralta made sure there would be no such comeback, putting a New Zealand defense decimated by injury and suspension – including all-time caps leader Ivan Vicelich through yellow-card accumulation – to the sword by scoring three goals in the first 33 minutes of action.
The Santos Laguna man's first came after an opening push from New Zealand that generated little in the way of clear chances. In the 14th minute, Carlos Peña found himself with time and space outside the Kiwis' 18-yard box and picked out Peralta with an inch-perfect through ball that the striker chipped over Glen Moss to open the scoring.
Mexico continued to pour the pressure on the home side throughout the half and destroyed any hope they might have had of even getting a result from the match with a four-minute double salvo. On the break, Luis Montes found a streaking Miguel Layún down the left flank, and the wing back served the ball up on a platter for Peralta to whack home at the far post in the 29th minute.
Four minutes later, Raúl Jiménez capitalized on a turnover in New Zealand territory and found Peña streaking into the side of the area. The León man managed to get an off-balance cross away, with Peralta easily cleaning it up for his and Mexico's third. Jiménez nearly made it four just minutes later, getting around Moss only to see his goal-bound shot cleared off the line by Tommy Smith.
The home side had a golden chance to get on the scoresheet late in the first half, as Muñoz was whistled for bringing down former Toronto FC striker Jeremy Brockie as he tried to take the ball around him. Brockie took the penalty himself, but Muñoz was equal to the effort, diving to his right to make the save.
Peralta almost made it four for both himself and his country in the 75th minute, getting a boot on a low Paul Aguilar cross only to put it across the face of goal. New Zealand came right back down the field after that sequence and saw strong claims for a handball in the area on Aguilar waved away by German referee Felix Brych.
The Kiwis would get their wish just minutes later, though, as Rafa Márquez was whistled by Brych for a handball in the area. James slammed the spot kick into the top corner to the delight of the still-vocal crowd at the Westpac Stadium. It was the Finland-based midfielder's second goal of the series after netting his team's lone goal in Mexico.
The home side grabbed another in the 84th minute after Kosta Barbarouses found Fallon wide open at the far post to pull New Zealand back within one on the evening, even as the aggregate scoreline proved insurmountable. Peña made sure of that fact by finishing off a Sinha-created chance with an accurate finish at the far post in the 87th minute.
After very nearly being eliminated from qualifying altogether in October, Mexico can now look forward to a sixth consecutive World Cup appearance and 14th in national team history. New Zealand, meanwhile, will move forward without longtime head coach Ricki Herbert – who brought the team to South Africa in 2010 – as they regroup for their 2018 qualifying campaign.