Mexico and Uruguay may have missed the boat when it came to automatic qualification for next summer’s World Cup, but both American nations seize their second chance.
El Tri and La Celeste are, to all intents and purposes, packing their bags for Brazil already after putting five past their respective opponents in the first leg of the intercontinental playoffs.
These two passionate football nations are still in fact 90 minutes away from confirming their attendance at a Latin American hosted World Cup, but the seconds legs will be little more than formalities.
Uruguay have become perennial playoff winners, only once failing to secure progress by this route in 2006. Against Jordan – surprise package of the Asian qualifiers – Oscar Tabarez redressed the poor form away from home shown by La Celeste throughout the campaign.
A vast gulf in class was quickly established in Amman. Jordan were two down at the break after being undone by supply from left to right. The hosts put together a sporadic threat in response, but were then exposed by clever movement in the channels.
Edinson Cavani then capped a consummate away day for Uruguay by firing a fine stoppage time free kick. Five away goals without reply means the hard work is already done. Tabarez must take credit for making changes in midfield with Nicolas Lodeiro partnering Egidio Arevalo.
And while we’re on the subject of bold selections, new Mexico coach Miguel Herrera overlooked more than 370 caps’ worth of experience in players that ply their trade in Europe. He selected a wholly domestic squad, meaning Javier Hernandez and others were left out.
This was a huge call, but Herrera was proved right by sticking to what he knows. Seven of the starting XI he picked played for Club America – the team he managed to the Mexican title last term. They rewarded that faith by beating New Zealand 5-1.
Santos Laguna striker Oribe Peralta bagged a brace, but was teed up on both occasions by Miguel Layun. Paul Aguilar, the other Club America wingback, opened the scoring with Raul Jimenez and now veteran defender Rafael Marquez – once of Barcelona – also on target.
Driven on by a fanatical 100,000 plus in the Azteca Stadium El Tri, playing with a back three, took full advantage of defensive mix-ups and ageing Kiwi players. The wingback system suited the hosts far better than Ricki Herbert’s side.
A consolation from Chris James gives New Zealand fans the shortest straw to clutch at ahead of the second leg and was the only negative for Mexico. Their struggles in front of goal – the reason why they did not make automatic progress to Brazil – were firmly put behind them here.
There may be little to surprise world football aficionados about either result. FIFA’s rankings, whatever you make of them, firmly suggested handsome wins for the American nations. Next week is now about seeing the job done professionally to ensure an even stronger Hispanic presence in Brazil.