New Zealand prepares for tough Azteca showdown

El Tri has decided to make do without its overseas stars, including Javier Hernandez, but it has only lost one previous qualifying game at the iconic venue.

New Zealand is preparing to embark on one of the toughest tests in football, as the team heads to Mexico for the first leg of a World Cup intercontinental playoff.

The All Whites topped their World Cup qualification group in Oceania with six wins from as many games, to earn the two-leg date with the fourth-placed nation in CONCACAF qualifying.

However, their upcoming battle on Wednesday stands in stark contrast to their most recent qualifying clash - a 2-0 win over the Solomon Islands in front of 5,600 people in Honiara.

The Estadio Azteca in Mexico City has a capacity of 105,000, is perched 7,200 feet above sea level and will be packed full of locals doing their utmost to make life as uncomfortable as possible for the visiting Kiwis.

All Whites team doctor Mark Fulcher said they were prepared for the quite literal uphill battle they are set to face in Mexico.

"It's harder to breathe (at altitude), the respiratory rate changes, your heart rate goes up ... essentially for any level of exercise, you are potentially more fatigued," Fulcher said. "For athletes, the simple equation is that you will become more fatigued, more quickly and performance will drop off over a period of time."

Midfielder Leo Bertos said the Kiwis had recent experience playing at altitude and would be better for the exposure to it come Wednesday.

"We have some experience of being at altitude in recent years, which will help," the Wellington Phoenix man said. "We know it is going to be tough but we can't be intimidated. It's a huge challenge for us."

Ricki Herbert's side is also facing the fact that Mexico has lost just one qualifying match at the venue in the team's history - a 2-1 defeat to Costa Rica in 2001 - making New Zealand's chances of taking a lead to the second leg in Wellington the following week all the more difficult.

A draw of any caliber would undoubtedly be a fine result ahead of the return fixture at Westpac Stadium, as New Zealand aims to reach consecutive World Cups for the first time.

From the home side's point of view, it will be hoping to reach the finals for the sixth time in succession, after disappointing its fans by failing to qualify automatically.

Mexico won just two games of 10 in the final stages of qualifying, to finish fourth behind the USA, Costa Rica and Honduras.

Mexico's head coach Miguel Herrera has named a squad of only domestic-based players for the intercontinental playoff in the hope of achieving some continuity across the 180 minutes. Herrera became Mexico's fourth coach in six weeks in October, as the team toyed with Luis Fernando Tena and Victor Manuel Vucetich in caretaker roles following the dismissal of Jose Manuel de la Torre, before ultimately settling on the Club America coach.

All Whites captain Winston Reid will miss the clash due to an ankle injury sustained while training for Premier League club West Ham.

Herrera must decide on who will partner Oribe Peralta up front after shunning the likes of Manchester United's Javier Hernandez in his squad, as he stuck with Liga MX players only. Peralta is set to be joined by either Aldo de Nigris or Raul Jimenez.

Follow GOAL.COM on