WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Mexico needed to travel an extra 14,000 miles to reach next year’s World Cup.
Ninety seconds from elimination last month, El Tri earned the next-to-last berth in the 32-nation field by defeating New Zealand 4-2 Wednesday night for a 9-3 aggregate win in their home-and-home playoff.
“We were expecting to be in the World Cup a long time ago, but it wasn’t like that,” Mexican goalkeeper Moises Munoz said. “So we had to play a couple of games more to be there. It was really tough, and we expected it to be tough here in New Zealand.”
Oribe Peralta had a first-half hat trick, giving him five goals in the playoff and 10 in qualifying, one behind co-leaders Robin van Persie of the Netherlands, Luis Suarez of Uruguay and Deon McCaulay of Belize.
Mexico qualified for its sixth straight World Cup since missing the 1990 tournament, when it was thrown out of qualifying for using overage players in the preliminary rounds of a FIFA tournament for players under 20. Usually a power in North and Central America and the Caribbean, El Tri finished fourth this year in the region’s final round, the hexagonal, gaining the playoff against the Oceania champion.
And Mexico nearly didn’t get that far — El Tri lost 2-1 at Costa Rica on Oct. 15 and was about to finish fifth behind Panama before Graham Zusi and Aron Johannsson scored in second-half stoppage time to give the United States a 3-2 win at Panama City.
El Tri went through a tumultuous stretch. Jose Manuel De la Torre was fired after a 2-1 home loss to Honduras on Sept. 6, Luis Fernando Tena following a 2-0 defeat at the United States on Sept. 10 and Victor Manuel Vucetich in the wake of the loss at Costa Rica.
Miguel Herrera, loaned to the national team by the Mexican League’s Club America, coached the national team in the playoff and made the decision not to call in any Europe-based players, such as Manchester United’s Javier Hernandez.
His starting lineup included seven players from his own club.
“They fought like warriors to the last minute, and they deserve the credit also,” he said.
Peralta scored in the 14th minute after taking a pass from Juan-Carlos Medina and chipping over oncoming goalkeeper Glen Moss, then added goals in the 28th and 33rd for a 3-0 lead.
Munoz saved Jeremy Brockie’s penalty kick in the 39th, but Chris James converted a penalty kick for New Zealand in the 79th minute and Rory Fallon scored four minutes later for the All Whites. Carlos Pena got the Mexico’s final goal in the 86th.
“We’re just a bit disappointed we couldn’t get that equalizer,” New Zealand captain Tommy Smith said. “Obviously we strung a few more passes together tonight and hopefully that bodes well for the future.”