FIFA Confederations Cup Group A rivals Mexico and New Zealand know they need nothing short of victory in their clash in Sochi on Wednesday.
New Zealand’s 2-0 opening game defeat against hosts Russia on Saturday leaves them with the unwanted record of going 10 Confederations Cup games without a win, and five games at the Tournament of Champions without a goal.
More importantly in the context of this year’s tournament, it means they must beat Mexico to stand any realistic chance of progressing.
While All Whites coach Anthony Hudson understandably said he was disappointed with the defeat against Russia, he was pleased with his side’s commitment – and he will expect nothing less when the team line up against Gold Cup winners Mexico at Sochi’s Fisht Stadium.
The lack of goals will be a cause for concern for Hudson though, and while young winger Ryan Thomas tested Russian keeper Igor Akinfeev with a rasping drive towards the end of Saturday’s game, the Kiwis will need to get key man Chris Wood involved more to stand any real chance of breaching the Mexican defense.
All Whites ‘keeper Stefan Marinovic was excellent against Russia – in particular pulling off one stunning double save – and he will need to be at his best against Mexico’s front line, led by top scorer Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez.
Hudson will face a difficult dilemma as to how to approach Mexico, who enjoyed large spells of possession against Portugal.
The New Zealand coach could allow El Tri plenty of possession, sucking them in and attempting to hit them on the counter attack, or he could urge his team into a higher pressing mode, risking gaps at the back. Knowing the current New Zealand team, the latter approach seems likely. The team will also pose a threat of their own through powerful skipper Wood.
Mexican boss Juan Carlos Osorio could shake things up with the starting line-up, as he is known to do, although regardless of the personnel he’s likely to stick with the 4-3-3 approach deployed against Mexico.
Osorio will hope that taking the attacking initiative gives his team the win they desperately need to improve their chances of progressing before going into a tough final group match against hosts Russia.
We could also see Rafa Marquez get some game-time against the All Whites. At the age of 39 years and four months, the Mexican could become the second-oldest Confed Cup player ever. He was also in the Mexico squad in 1999, when they won the tournament as hosts.
It could be a memorable game in several respects on Wednesday, and it’s one both sides must win to face any chance of prolonging their stay in Russia.