MEXICO CITY – Mexico has yet another coach — and a last chance to reach next year's World Cup in Brazil.
El Tri, which last missed a World Cup in 1990, opens a two-game playoff Wednesday against New Zealand, with the winner earning a World Cup berth.
Mexico should be the overwhelming favorite, particularly in the first match at Azteca and the game played at an altitude of 7,350 feet. The 100,000-capacity stadium is always loud and intimidating, and the thin air makes it even worse for visitors.
The second leg is Nov. 20 in Wellington, New Zealand. Mexico will try to pile up the goals in hopes of an overwhelming advantage in the second game. New Zealand figures to defend heavily Wednesday and take its chances at home.
Mexico is scrambling to reach Brazil, bringing in coach Miguel Herrera to handle the playoff in the latest of a series of four coaching changes. Herrera, the coach of the Mexican club America, has recruited 10 players from America and has overlooked the country's Europe-based players, like Manchester United's Javier Hernandez. He's going with all domestic players.
"We are in the process of leaving behind the past and looking toward the great opportunity we have," Herrera said. "We are not overconfident. An excess of confidence would make us think our rival is a step below us."
New Zealand is undefeated in qualifying, but it plays in the weakest region, one that includes teams like Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Vanuatu.
"They wound up unbeaten," Herrera said. "But the quality of the opposition is not the same as the teams we've played. I don't think they see us on the same level as the teams they regularly face."
Mexico played poorly during qualifying, struggling to score and finishing behind the U.S., Costa Rica and Honduras — the three earned the automatic berths from the CONCACAF region.
Mexico received a gift courtesy of the United States just to reach this stage. The U.S. scored two late goals last month to defeat Panama, sending the Mexicans to the playoff. Otherwise, Panama would have advanced and Mexico would have been out.
Mexico is expected to start Oribe Peralta up front, and team him with Aldo de Nigris or Rual Jimenez.
New Zealand's key problem — besides the altitude — may be the absence of West Ham defender Winston Reid with an ankle injury.
"Not allowing goals will be important, but the most important will be to leave with an advantage," Herrera said. "Let's hope it's a big one. We have to go in search of goals, but we can't be desperate and crazy in trying to do it."