Mexico is heading to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, barring a complete disaster. They turned in their best performance of 2013 at Estadio Azteca on Wednesday, demolishing New Zealand, 5-1. The Kiwis never offered up any kind of meaningful opposition, with their goal coming after Mexico had scored five and switched off.
Five questions answered
Before the game, we asked five questions. Here's how the game answered them.
1. How much is home field worth?
Mexico might have laid a convincing beating on New Zealand in Wellington or at a neutral site, but it's probably safe to say that the atmosphere at the Azteca played some part. New Zealand were very poor on the ball, losing possession in spots that weren't all that tight, and lacked composure at the back. This is probably a more competitive game at a different venue.
2. Where will Mexico's goals come from?
Mostly from the energy of their wingbacks and the creativity of Raul Jimenez. Paul Aguilar scored Mexico's first by getting into the box in a timely spot, while two of Mexico's goals came on crosses by Miguel Layun off switches by Rafael Marquez. El Tri also had a pair of surprising set piece goals, with the first being created by a stunning Jimenez scorpion kick attempt. Perhaps it's more important where the goals didn't come from: Pretty passing moves through the center.
3. How ambitious will New Zealand be at the Azteca?
As unambitious as possible. El Tri had 82 percent possession in the first half and they weren't even playing world class midfielders or making an effort to flood the middle. You'll struggle to find a game where a team plays less ambitious football this season.
4. Can Mexico defend with three?
It probably helped that Chris Wood picked up an early yellow card and that New Zealand's midfield was incompetent, but Mexico's back three got the job done in this game. However, they get a grade of 'incomplete' for now.
5. Will New Zealand's physicality cause Mexico problems?
It looked like it might early on. Wood looked very dangerous in the beginning of the match before he was booked, and from there, New Zealand offered nothing going forward. Once Wood had to tone it down a notch, there was no plan B.
What we didn't expect
Such a god awful performance from New Zealand: Everyone expected Mexico to win at the Azteca. Even this hopeless Mexico team, with their terrible home record in qualifying, was expected to take a one or two goal advantage to New Zealand. No one expected New Zealand to lie down and help them book their ticket to Brazil after just 90 minutes. It can't be overstated how bad New Zealand are.
The big takeaway
Herrera's 3-5-2 works: Does it work at the highest level with this personnel? Probably not, but the system gets a lot out of Mexico's most threatening players. All of their fullbacks are better as marauding wingbacks in this system than they are as real fullbacks in a back four. Jimenez and Oribe Peralta work well as a partnership in this system better than they do in a 4-4-2. The presence of two other central midfielders -- and one as disciplined as Jesus Molina -- frees up Carlos Peña to get creative. Luis Montes probably isn't Mexico's best option next to Molina and the back three that started this match will get abused in the World Cup, but the system works.
Miguel Herrera has made his point to El Tri's stars that he doesn't need them and that a team that understands the manager's tactics is more important than having a bunch of individual talents. Now it's up to him to integrate his best defenders and midfielders into the team and make sure they understand his philosophy. He could afford to leave Hector Moreno and Diego Reyes out of this team to make a point, but he needs them in Brazil.
Man of the Match
Rafael Marquez: Having said that, Marquez was the best player in this match. That had a lot to do with the fact that he wasn't actually asked to defend, but we can only critique players match to match on what they actually had to do in any given match. In the role he had for this one, Marquez was exceptional, setting up numerous chances with his long passing -- including two goals -- and scoring on a corner.
The second leg, which takes place on November 20. It will be a chance for New Zealand to put on a show for their fans and Herrera to experiment with his team. Mexico are heading to the World Cup, while New Zealand will have to wait four years for another chance to get back to the big show.