Mexico claimed a hard-fought Confederations Cup win over a spirited New Zealand team in Sochi, a result which means the All Whites have no chance of reaching the semifinal and which puts Mexico level with Portugal on four points at the top of Group A.
In a evenly-matched game at Sochi’s Fisht Stadium, Mexico survived a major scare to eventually run out 2-1 winners, after second-half goals by Raul Jimenez and Oribe Peralta overturned a first-half strike from New Zealand captain Chris Wood.
All Whites boss Anthony Hudson put his faith in youth by including 18-year-old Dane Ingham in the starting line-up – the second youngest player ever to appear at the Confederations Cup – along with 22-year-old Ryan Thomas.
New Zealand started much the brighter of the two teams, with Mexico struggling to get to grips with their high-pressing game. Mexico head coach Juan Carlos Osorio made major changes to the team that drew 2-2 with Portugal on Sunday, and his side struggled to find any fluency in the face of New Zealand’s intensity.
Kiwi striker Wood almost gave the All Whites the lead around the half-hour mark but he failed to beat Mexico keeper Alfredo Talavera when one-on-one.The New Zealand skipper made no mistake on 42 minutes though, capitalizing on sloppy Mexican play to fire past Talavera and give the All Whites a deserved lead going into the break.
Mexico unsurprisingly came out fired up for the second half, and put New Zealand under near-constant pressure from the off – going close through Giovani dos Santos, who fired over from five yards out when unmarked.
Wood had a golden chance to extend New Zealand’s lead when again one-on-one with Talavera, but failed to round the Mexico keeper and was made to rue the miss just seconds later when Jimenez equalized for Mexico with a sharp turn and strike on 54 minutes.
Rafa Marquez came on for El Tri, at 38 years and four months old becoming the second-oldest player ever to appear at the Tournament of Champions.
New Zealand finally began to settle again and seemed to be gaining the ascendancy, but were hit by a sucker-blow when Mexico struck on 72 minutes, when Oribe Peralta fired in from a Javier Aquino cross.
The All Whites were forced to press for an equalizer to keep their tournament hopes alive, which meant they left themselves increasingly exposed at the back.
Thomas came agonizingly close for New Zealand when he hit the bar with a lovely curled strike five minutes from time, but Mexico had chances of their own to extend the lead, notably when defender Tommy Smith cleared off the line.
There were unsavory scenes towards the end as a scuffle broke out among the players, which resulted in the Video Assistance Referee (VAR) being called upon but only yellow cards were given to New Zealand’s Michael Boxall and Mexico’s Diego Reyes.
New Zealand pressed desperately for a winner deep into injury time but Mexico held on for a win to put them level on four points with Portugal at the top of Group A, after the European Champions beat hosts Russia 1-0 in Moscow earlier in the day.
Mexico now face Russia in Kazan in a key last group stage match with a chance in the semifinal at stake, while New Zealand face Portugal in St. Petersburg, knowing that even a win would not be enough to keep them in the tournament.