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Nov 13, 2013

Mexico takes control in first-leg playoff

MEXICO CITY -- Mexico swept to a 5-1 victory over New Zealand in the first leg of their intercontinental playoff on Wednesday to become the overwhelming favorite for a place at next year's World Cup finals.

Paul Aguilar put Mexico ahead in the 32nd minute and Raul Jimenez made 2-0 before the break. Oribe Peralta added two more in the second half before Rafael Marquez scored in the 84th and Chris James grabbed a consolation goal for New Zealand a minute later.

El Tri player grades | Is El Tri back?

Mexico, which was lucky to reach the playoff, now just needs to finish the job in the second leg next Wednesday in New Zealand.

Oribe Peralta celebrates one of his two goals in Mexico's 5-1 win over New Zealand.
Oribe Peralta celebrates one of his two goals in Mexico's 5-1 win over New Zealand.

"We haven't won anything yet," Mexico coach Miguel Herrera said. "Only one game. Over there (in Wellington next week), we will play as if this playoff was beginning, as if we were zero to zero, as if it were only for one game".

Mexico scored only seven goals in 10 qualifying games, but broke through under Herrera. Herrera, the fourth Mexico coach in two months, used only players based in the national league, omitting stars like Javier Hernandez of Manchester United.

That focus on domestic league players was partly to deal with Mexico City's altitude of 2,240 meters (7,350 feet), which seemed to fatigue New Zealand.

Herrera, who also coaches Mexican club America, was hired for only the two playoff matches, declined to speculate about his future.

"I am the coach for two games, and I won an important one,'' Herrera said. "Afterward they (Mexican football federation) will decide and we hope they make the right decision. One could put together a sensational team."

Mexico finished behind the United States, Costa Rica and Honduras in CONCACAF qualifying, with those three advancing automatically to Brazil. Mexico only secured fourth place after the United States scored two late goals last month to defeat Panama -- which was winning at the time and would have reached the playoff.

Aguilar broke the deadlock by chipping in from 10 meters (yards) after keeper Glen Moss was caught off his line and Jimenez found the net eight minutes later with a close-range header after threatening to score several times.

Only Moss, who made several acrobatic saves, kept Mexico from scoring more in the first half at Azteca stadium.

Moss punched away a shot from Jimenez in the 18th, which nearly crossed the line. In the 24th, Francisco Rodriguez hit the crossbar, and in the 27th Moss stopped Jimenez's shot from point-blank range.

Peralta put the match beyond New Zealand's reach just three minutes after the re-start, collecting a cross from the left and slotting home from six meters (yards), and then scored his second with an 80th-minute header. Marquez then nodded home Mexico's fifth, before James scored with a volley off the post.

"[The players] were the ones that pulled me into the win, because it is their demonstration solely," Herrera said. "What is clear is that with this group and with the players in Europe, whoever takes over the national team will have a great team for the World Cup."

It was the second one-sided victory of the day. Earlier, Uruguay hammered Jordan 5-0 away in another intercontinental playoff for next year's World Cup in Brazil.

Information from The Associated Press and ESPNDeportes.com was used in this report.

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