Mexico's tumultuous 2013 comes down to this: a two-legged playoff against New Zealand for a spot in the World Cup. Win it, and while the memories and struggles of the year will not be forgotten, it would have ended with a spot in Brazil just as if they had been spectacular all year. Lose to the Kiwis and it may be El Tri's biggest failure ever.
The magnitude of the tie will be apparent on Wednesday when the two teams take the field in front of nearly 100,000 fans -- fans that have cheered, booed and sat in stunned silence throughout the year. The tension will be higher than ever and it will be up to Mexico to get a country that has turned skeptical at best, and contemptuous at worst, on its side.
Miguel Herrera will lead El Tri, making him the fourth manager to lead the team into a qualifier this season, and he has been nothing but positive, if not arrogant leading into the match. He has all but guaranteed that Mexico will win on Wednesday and win the tie, claiming that there is no doubt El Tri will make it to Brazil because "Mexico is Mexico." That talk puts him in the spotlight and puts him on the firing line if Mexico fall, whether it is his doing or not.
It's hard to imagine Mexico failing and it not being at least somewhat Herrera's fault, though. He has chosen to call in only domestic players, leaving the likes of Javier Hernandez, Hector Moreno, Andres Guardado and Giovani dos Santos with their European clubs. Mexico don't have their most talented roster now, meaning Herrera has to make the most of a team filled with 10 of his Club America players and bet they are better as a team than the more talented El Tri sides from earlier in qualifying were. Not it will be tough seeing as El Tri finished fourth in the Hex and to land Mexico in the play-off.
But whether Mexico are more talented or a better team doesn't really matter at this point. They have two legs to book a spot in Brazil and all that matters now is the result. That begins Wednesday at the Azteca, Mexico's biggest match yet, at least until next Wednesday's second leg.
Thanks to Mexico's contract with ESPN, the match will be available in English in the United States on the Worldwide Leader. As always, the match will also be available in Spanish on UniMas.
Match date/time: Wednesday, 3:15 p.m. ET
Venue: Estadio Azteca, Mexico City, Mexico
TV: ESPN (U.S. English), UniMas (U.S. Spanish), Sky Sport 1 (New Zealand), Premier Sports (U.K.)
Streaming: Watch ESPN (U.S.)