World Cup Qualifying Playoffs: Uphill Battles Ahead for Jordan and New Zealand

Wednesday marked the start of the final week of qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, and the results of the intercontinental playoffs already seem to be decided. Jordan, always the underdog and proud to have even made it this far, faced an Uruguay team that is ranked sixth in the world. While they did have the advantage of playing on their home pitch in Amman, the Jordanian team still took a thrashing from La Celeste. Jordan did manage to hold off Uruguay for the first twenty minutes of the match, but the wall broke in the 22nd minute with a tap in by Maxi Pereira. Uruguay doubled their lead before the half, with a shot from wide by Edinson Cavani that slipped under the Jodranian keeper.

Jordan nearly rebounded in the beginning of the second half with their only good chance of the match. Shareef Adhan had a superb set up with a steal and run down the right side of the field, but Ibrahim al-Zawareh headed the cross wide of the goal. After that near goal, Uruguay returned to the offensive and netted three more goals by the end of the match. Nicolas Lodiero scored Uruguay’s third with a chip over Jordan’s keeper after Cavani got in back behind the defence. Cristiano Rodriguez became the fourth name on the scoresheet for Uruguay in the 69th minute, and Cavani scored his second and finalized the Uruguayan tally in the final minutes with a curved free kick from outside the penalty area. After that result, Jordan will have a heavy uphill battle in Uruguay on November 20, while Uruguay can sit back, qualification all but assured.

Nearly the same result played out half a world away in Mexico City later on Wednesday. It looks like El Tri has finally overcome their qualification campaign jitters in Estadio Azteca and defeated New Zealand 5-1 in the first leg. In a test of the domestically located talent, new manager Miguel Herrera Aguirre opted to leave out several star players including Javier “Chicharrito” Hernandez and Memo Ochoa in favor of players from the Liga MX. New Zealand fell back to defend right from the start, inviting the Mexican side to attack relentlessly. Even so, it took until after the half hour mark for El Tri to score their first goal. New Zealand keeper Glen Moss did not do enough to clear a cross from Luis Montes and Paul Aguilar headed the ball in for Mexico’s first goal of the night. Raul Jimenez headed in a bouncing cross at the 40th minute to give Mexico their second goal. Like in the Jordan-Uruguay match, the favorites were up 2-0 at halftime.

Mexico was in complete control during the first half, and the state of the game remained firmly in Mexico’s control through the second. Oribe Peralta collected the ball free in the six yard box from a short cross for Mexico’s third goal in the first few minutes in the half. The New Zealand defense stood firm for much of the rest of the half, but faltered badly in the last ten minutes of the match. Peralta headed in his second of the match in the 80th minute off a high cross. Minutes later, Mexico showed they still were not done and slotted in another header off a corner. This time is was the veteran player and captain, Rafa Marquez, who landed the ball in the net.

New Zealand did get a slight consolation in the 85th minute with a goal from Chris James that ended Mexico’s clean sheet. However, El Tri was still dominant for the entire match and ran New Zealand ragged. The All Whites are left with a four goal deficit coming out of Estadio Azteca. Mexico’s predicament going to Wellington is tough, but it is not quite as bad as Jordan’s. In a highly unlikely event, New Zealand would only need to defeat Mexico 4-0 in Wellington to advance on away goals. However, as with Uruguay, Mexico is almost certainly qualified.

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