It has taken 33 months of intense qualifying in every corner of the globe but finally it comes down a single match. Peru and New Zealand have the honour of rounding out the qualifying competition for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ in Lima on Wednesday.
Both sides are looking at a rare opportunity to earn passage to football’s biggest stage. Peru will feel they have most to gain having endured a 36-year drought from the World Cup. New Zealand, for their part, have featured at just two previous World Cups. However, the Oceania champions have had to wait until the final month of global qualifying to have a shot at qualification via the intercontinental play-off route.
The pair played out a cagey scoreless draw in Wellington on Saturday, with just a couple of goalscoring opportunities at either end. Peru will feel they have the advantage, but an away goal for the All Whites would shift momentum.
Peru look to make home advantage count
Peru coach Ricardo Gareca is likely to have the same starting side available to that which featured in Saturday’s opening leg. While Peru’s recent form has been strong, their home record over the course of the campaign has been indifferent with four wins and two defeats from nine matches.
Their goal difference is almost equal with 15 goals scored and 14 conceded. The fact that the two teams sit more than 100 places apart on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking is evidence of Peru’s favouritism, but that also brings an added pressure if things don’t go to plan early in front of home supporters.
All Whites seek to invoke spirit of ‘09
The last two intercontinental play-offs have been vastly different experiences for New Zealand. Eight years ago they created one of the most memorable moments in New Zealand football with a 1-0 aggregate win over Bahrain, before remaining undefeated at the 2010 World Cup. Four years ago, however, New Zealand slumped to a one-sided aggregate defeat against Mexico, but this is a markedly different unit that has been moulded under coach Anthony Hudson during the ongoing World Cup cycle.
New Zealand fullback Storm Roux hasn’t travelled to Peru because of injury, however star striker Chris Wood is reportedly fit after not starting in the first leg. Defender Tommy Smith who went off in the first leg in Wellington with a calf injury will undergo a fitness test.
Players to watch
Playmaker Christian Cueva looms as a lynchpin for Peru. The 25-year-old has proved his worth over the past year with his decisive passing and intelligent runs resulting in four goals and three assists during the campaign for Russia 2018.
Inspirational New Zealand captain and defensive cornerstone Winston Reid has timed his return back from injury to perfection. After missing the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup, Reid played his first match for the national team for a year last month against Japan. Only Ryan Nelsen has accrued more English Premier League appearances than Reid and the West Ham United man’s experience will be vital in Lima.
7 – Peru are unbeaten in seven World Cup matches dating back to November 2016.
Peru-New Zealand, Lima, 15 November (21:15 local time, 03:15 CET)