11.11.2013 03:00 h

Football: Kiwi Fallon eager for Azteca challenge

Vitinhos Herz schlägt künftig für CSKA Moskau
Vitinhos Herz schlägt künftig für CSKA Moskau

The prospect of taking on Mexico for a World Cup berth in the fabled Azteca Stadium is the stuff of dreams for New Zealand striker Rory Fallon.

The Mexico City venue -- where Pele and Diego Maradona have hoisted World Cup trophies -- is famously inhospitable to visitors going up against Mexico.

But that doesn't dim Fallon's enthusiasm as he looks toward Wednesday's opening leg of the intercontinental playoff between the Oceania champions and North and Central America's fourth-place finishers Mexico for a place in next year's World Cup finals.

"I can't wait," Fallon said Sunday in Los Angeles, where the All Whites have gathered for training a camp before their departure for Mexico.

"To play in a place like Azteca Stadium. I remember watching Maradona score goals there in the '86 World Cup ... when are you going to play against Mexico in such a big game as this?"

Fallon famously scored the goal against Bahrain in the second leg of their playoff that sent New Zealand to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

After a lengthy absence from the national side, he earned a recall for an 0-0 draw with Trinidad and Tobago last month.

He and others in the Kiwi camp said the All Whites' familiarity with the intercontinental playoff system could be to their advantage.

Oceania, the weakest of the six FIFA confederations, does not have an automatic berth at the 2014 World Cup and must win the playoff -- as they did last time round with an away draw and 1-0 home win over Bahrain.

For Mexico, long the powerhouse of North and Central America and the Caribbean, to fail to advance directly to Brazil as one of the top three teams in the six-nation final qualifying group was a stunning reversal for a team that hasn't missed a World Cup since 1990.

"This is just such foreign territory for them, let's see how they respond to it," New Zealand manager Ricki Herbert said. "Nobody in the world would have anticipated having Mexico in a playoff. We certainly didn't."

Herbert said he thought Wednesday's match was "one of the hardest, if not the hardest" New Zealand had ever faced.

New Zealand suffered a blow last week when skipper Winston Reid was ruled out with an ankle injury suffered playing for his English Premier League club West Ham.

Herbert's squad includes the attacking trio of Shane Smeltz, Chris Wood and Marco Rojas, who all missed the October friendly with Trinidad and Tobago due to injury.

Smeltz played 53 minutes for the Perth Glory in the A-League on Saturday, his first match back since hip surgery.