The All Whites have been given a leg-up in their bid to reach consecutive World Cups, with Mexico's new coach snubbing his European stars for this month's playoffs.
What had appeared a mission impossible for Ricki Herbert's men is now looking slightly less daunting after Miguel Herrera yesterday named a squad picked entirely from domestic Mexican players.
It is the ultimate dodged bullet for the All Whites, who no longer have to worry about gun Manchester United goalscorer Javier Hernandez and Villarreal stars Giovani dos Santos and Javier Aquino.
Instead Herrera - Mexico's fourth coach in two months - has opted for 10 players from his champion club America.
His theory is that the European stars would not have enough time to adapt to his preferred 5-3-2 setup ahead of the first leg at Mexico City's imposing Estadio Azteca.
"It is not that they are bad, they are very good players, but the trip is very taxing and arriving on November 7, 8 or 9 to play on the 13th [14th NZT], they won't finish adapting to the situation that we are looking for," Herrera said.
It really is an extraordinary situation; akin to Herbert leaving out Winston Reid, Marco Rojas and Chris Wood.
But Mexico's domestic players are no mugs and they outclassed Finland 4-2 in a friendly in San Diego last Thursday.
Herbert was in the stands at Qualcomm Stadium, and said Mexico played an attacking brand of football.
"It has been a turbulent time for them but the game was about breaking the shackles and getting their supporters back on board with the team," Herbert said.
"They looked very, very good, especially on attack."
Herbert names his squad tomorrow with Rojas (foot) and Shane Smeltz (hip) expected to be included after recovering from injury.
Olympic Marseille youth player Bill Tuiloma will be included after impressing on debut in last month's draw with Trinidad and Tobago.
But Herbert is unlikely to thrust the wingback into the fray in front of 100,000-plus fans, with the Phoenix's Leo Bertos and the club-less Tony Lochhead expected to fill those roles.
Glen Moss will start in goal, with Reid, Tommy Smith and Andrew Durante the three centre backs.
Michael McGlinchey will be one of the central midfielders, with Ivan Vicelich his likely partner.
Up front Wood is the probable targetman, with Kosta Barbarouses and Jeremy Brockie capable of offering support as well as tracking back in defence.
Rojas and Smeltz may have bigger roles to play in the return leg in Wellington on November 20 if the All Whites can keep the tie alive in Mexico City.
- Sunday Star Times
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