GUADALAJARA, Mexico — Mexico trounced New Zealand 5-1 on Wednesday in the first of two matches to decide who goes to the World Cup.
The two countries will face off again next week in New Zealand.
The decisive victory was met with relief in Mexico, where many football fans had almost given up hope of their side making it to Brazil.
Mexico is considered one of the great World Cup nations — it has appeared in the tournament 14 times — but its national team, nicknamed El Tri, has had a shocking qualifying campaign this year.
Its disappointing performance led to a fourth placing and a playoff with Oceanic winners New Zealand, who are better known for their rugby tackling prowess than dribbling skills.
The Mexican side took to the field on Wednesday afternoon in front of nearly 100,000 fans at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City without any European players after Miguel Herrera, the fourth manager to lead Mexico into a qualifier this season, decided jet lag would harm their performance.
Their absence wasn't missed. Mexico dominated the match from the outset, with Paul Aguilar, Raul Jimenez, Oribe Peralta and Rafa Marquez scoring goals.
Mexico still has to back up next Wednesday for the second leg in New Zealand to secure its berth in Brazil.
ESPN estimated there is $600 million worth of TV contracts and sponsorship behind Mexico's run to the World Cup in Brazil.
"I would say that the atmosphere between all the stakeholders and sponsors, it’s about doubts, it’s about uncertainty and it’s about questions," sports marketing expert Rogelio Roa told ESPN. "No one would have suspected that, at this point, Mexico wouldn't have a spot in the World Cup."
Elsewhere in World Cup qualifying on Wednesday, Uruguay defeated Jordan 5-0 in Amman.
That Uruguay was forced to play an intercontinental playoff against tiny Jordan is a testament to the strength of South America heading into next year's championship.
La Celeste is ranked sixth in the world, yet still finished tied with Ecuador in fourth place after the first South American qualifying round. With a star-studded lineup, Uruguay looks to have all-but assured itself a place in Brazil with one more game against 70th-ranked Jordan next week.