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World Cup Qualifying: Mexico and New Zealand face off in first leg of playoff series

On Wednesday afternoon, Mexico will try and right the ship against New Zealand in the first leg of their home and home playoff to see who punches a ticket to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup.

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

The time has finally arrived. Mexico is roughly a week away from putting all the pressure of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup behind them. The toughest part though will begin Wednesday afternoon. In fact, Wednesday's opening leg of the two game do-or-die playoff is the most important match Mexico has had in years.

New Zealand isn't a soccer powerhouse like Mexico. But this Mexico is not the one that we are used to watching dominate opponents. This Mexico team is missing something.

The creativity is gone. The confidence lost. The power in the region suddenly is up for grabs.

Now, on the brink of a national disaster, Mexico will try and recapture that power and secure a victory in the famed Estadio Azteca - Mexico's fortress.

Coaching changes, tactics (or lack thereof), player selection, egos, blame - all have to be checked at the door. This is a team that has to be united and must understand the consequences of both winning or losing.

Liga MX on Display

Newly appointed coach Miguel Herrera is bold. While "El Piojo" recently led Club America to a Mexican championship and could be headed for another in a few weeks, his recent decision to leave out all Mexican's playing abroad has raised some concern.

In all reality, it'll remain a talking point, but Herrera knows this domestic roster is fully capable of winning both legs against the All Whites. While a World Cup squad would likely contain the Euro-based stars, the domestic players would be just as competitive in Brazil next year.

The Mexican roster contains 10 players that currently play for Club America, giving El Tri a base of Herrera's most trusted employees. There is no guarantee about Herrera's future as the Mexican coach so he's simply going with what he's comfortable with.

It's a smart and safe move and something fans should be applauding the outspoken coach for. Unfortunately if things don't go Mexico's way, Herrera's decision will likely (and unjustly) field the blame for the epic downfall of the nation.

European Based Players

Sure, the Mexican's abroad bring talent and experience to the team. But this Liga MX roster is a solid mix of both. The difference is these selected players are simply producing better results than those who didn't make the cut.

Most notably, Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez and Giovani Dos Santos have struggled for their country. It's difficult to imagine leaving such big names off a roster when these two matches could reportedly cost a country millions of lost revenue, but Herrera has done just that.

The Mexican federation has given Herrera full control for the two game playoff and he believes this is decision puts El Tri in the best position to punch their ticket to Brazil.

Pressure is on Mexico

New Zealand certainly come into this playoff as the underdog, regardless of how Mexico has recently been performing. But the upside for the All Whites is the pressure is one hundred percent on Mexico. The fans, the owners, and the press - basically the entire country can turn on this team in a heartbeat if things go wrong early.

Mexico will be playing in front of a sold out crowd in Estadio Azteca. That's more than 100,000 green jerseys either supporting their team or getting in their head. Mexico has lost their confidence, but a crowd of that magnitude can bring it back.

On the contrary, if New Zealand gets off to a good start, the crowd could begin to work to their favor if they're not happy.

Confidence Lost

Keeping New Zealand from a good start is exactly what Mexico has to do to get the raucous crowd at the Azteca behind them. An early goal in the opening 15 minutes would dramatically change the way this game would play out. If Mexico goes up early, the walls of Azteca will shake and the team will likely use that for more.

Mexico is in dire need of support. It's not going to come from media or fans in the lead up to the match. It will only come at the moment. The moment where Mexico makes a stand and shows the 100,000 on hand where their heart is.

One early goal and that confidence that Mexico once had will return.

First Leg is Key

Nothing is more important for Mexico than getting the win in Azteca. While common sense, it has to be said. A multiple goal win is necessary for El Tri to position themselves for a tough battle in New Zealand. El Tri is capable of beating the All Whites in their house, but there is no way Herrera wants to have a "must win" situation on his hands next week.

Mexico's pride and confidence are either recaptured or will reach a new low with the result of the first leg Wednesday afternoon.

Game Notes:

When: Wednesday, November 13
Time: 3:15 pm (EST), 2:15 pm (CST - Houston)
Where: Estadio Azteca
Who: New Zealand at Mexico
Where to Watch: ESPN (English); UniMas (Spanish)

In case you want to comb through Mexico's roster, here you go.

Goalkeepers (3): José de Jesús Corona (Cruz Azul), Alfredo Talavera (Toluca), Moisés Muñoz (Club América)

Defenders (9): Rafa Márquez (León), Francisco "Maza" Rodríguez (Club América), Juan Carlos Valenzuela (Club América), Paul Aguilar (Club América), Miguel Layún (Club América), Edwin Hernández (León), Adrián Aldrete (Club América), Miguel Herrera (Pachuca), Hiram Mier (Monterrey)

Midfielders (8): Rodrigo Salinas (Morelia), Juan Carlos Medina (Club América), Antonio Naelson "Sinha" (Toluca), Carlos Peña (León), Luis Ángel Mendoza (Club América), Luis Montes (León), Jesús Molina (Club América), Alonso Escoboza (Santos Laguna)

Forwards (3): Oribe Peralta (Santos Laguna), Raúl Jiménez (Club América), Aldo de Nigris (Guadalajara)

Finally, what are your thoughts on the game? Predictions? Let's hear it!