Mexico required a last-gasp header from Hector Moreno to salvage a point vs. Portugal in its Confederations Cup opener, and El Tri struggled again before earning all three points in in a 2-1 win over New Zealand on Wednesday.
The two sides clashed in Sochi, with New Zealand getting eliminated and Mexico creeping closer to qualifying for the knockout stage after second-half goals from Raul Jimenez and Oribe Peralta and an overall fantastic effort from Javier Aquino. Mexico showed great resiliency in battling back from two deficits against Portugal and earned a sixth straight win against New Zealand in a similar manner.
Aquino had Mexico's first true chance in the 12th minute, with a header on the doorstep going wide of the mark.
Mexico goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera was forced into a save in the 20th minute, with a header off a corner kick steered on target. He made a confident grab just under the crossbar, though, to keep the All Whites (ironically dressed in all black uniforms) off the board.
Talavera came up huge again in the 27th minute on a controversial play. Defender Carlos Salcedo got his feet tangled with New Zealand forward Chris Wood and crashed into the ground, appearing to injure his shoulder or elbow. Both Mexico and New Zealand played on, which resulted in Wood having a clear look on goal. Talavera came off his line, got down and saved the chance, putting it out for a corner–but not before a livid Juan Carlos Osorio offered some choice words for his counterpart, Anthony Hudson.
Salcedo was stretchered off, with his left arm immobilized and head/neck stabilized, and he was replaced by Moreno.
After New Zealand continued to knock on the door through Wood, the pressure paid off with a deserved go-ahead goal. It took a poor Mexico lapse in the back, but Clayton Lewis pounced and delivered a through ball to Wood, who clinically finished his wide-open chance to make it 1-0 in the 42nd minute.
Wood nearly had a second before halftime, but his first touch let him down after a pinpoint lofted ball over the top.
Mexico responded after halftime with pressure in the attacking third, with Aquino, again having the best chance on goal, only to have goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic make a swiping save at the close-range, bounding effort from the left. Giovani Dos Santos had a chance on the follow-up, but he blasted it well over the bar.
Marco Fabian then tried to chip Marinovic from the edge of the box after a combination between Aquino and Dos Santos, but it, too, went over the crossbar.
The pressure paid off in the 54th minute, when Jimenez capped a fantastic sequence with a sensational finish. Aquino fed Fabian, who slid the pass to his right for Jimenez. The Benfica forward took a touch, turned and blasted a finished into the far netting to bring Mexico level at 1-1.
Mexico took its first lead in the 71st minute, with Peralta finishing from close range after more strong individual work and a cut-back cross from Aquino, making it 2-1 El Tri. It was Peralta who scored four times in the intercontinental playoff against New Zealand and helped bring El Tri to Brazil in 2014.
New Zealand was denied a would-be sensational equalizer in the 85th minute, when Ryan Thomas laced a right-footed blast off the upper right-hand corner of the frame. On the other end, Jurgen Damm had a close-range effort denied by Marinovic's kick save, a chance that could have put the game out of reach.
Mexico continued to pressure, with Aquino setting up Jimenez for a chance that should've iced the game, but Tommy Smith's heroic goal-line clearance saved Marinovic and the All Whites, stopping his 10-yard chance cold with a kick save.
A late altercation resulted in a lengthy Video Assistant Referee review that resulted in a few yellow cards being handed out, but Mexico defended an ensuing free kick and held on for the win. It will advance with a win or draw against host Russia in Saturday's group finale, while New Zealand will exit after its match against Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal in a concurrent game.