Peru host New Zealand in the second leg of their intercontinental play-off in the early hours of Thursday morning, after the first leg finished 0-0 in Wellington. With 31 teams having already secured their place at the 2018 World Cup, the winner of this game will take the final spot and make their way to Russia next summer.
Peru vs New Zealand: Final World Cup Spot Up For Grabs
Last Time Out
New Zealand defied the odds last time out in the first leg, holding the visitors to a 0-0 draw. Peru, ranked 10th in the world, were expected to comfortably dispatch of the home side. However, some valiant Kiwi defending, particularly from captain and West Ham defender Winston Reid, kept Peru at bay and ensured they did not get that vital away goal.
Peru, who have not qualified for a World Cup since 1982, were limited to few chances. The closest they came was when All Whites’ keeper Stefan Marinovic, was forced to claw the ball off the line after a defensive mix-up. He was also called into action to push a powerful header from Aldo Corzo over the bar.
The hosts may have been hurt by the fact that Chris Wood was only fit enough for the substitutes bench. However, the Burnley forward is expected to feature more heavily in this fixture. It is not confirmed whether he will start, but New Zealand should be looking to get him on as soon as possible if he is named amongst the substitutes.
The Second Leg
With the game finely poised at a 0-0 aggregate score, it is all to play for in the second leg in Lima. A score draw would be enough to send New Zealand to Russia 2018, so the onus is on Peru to take use of their home advantage.
Peru cannot use the advantage of altitude, like many South American countries. The Estadio Nacional de Lima lies just 137m above sea level. On the contrary, neighbours Bolivia play their home games 3,637m above sea level at the Estadio Hernando Siles.
The one thing Peru can rely on though is the difference in quality. They currently lie 10th in the FIFA World Rankings, two places above England and just two places behind 2010 World Cup winners Spain. The recent resurgence in Peruvian national football saw just Brazil and Chile leave Lima with wins during their qualifying campaign.
New Zealand, on the other hand, are currently 122nd in the rankings. They lie just one place above Asian minnows Tajikistan, and far behind teams such as Azerbaijan and Georgia, who are renowned strugglers in the European qualifying campaigns.
This would leave many to believe that this should be a simple walkover for Peru. However, New Zealand do boast some high-quality players, such as the aforementioned Winston Reid and Chris Wood, as well as Ipswich Town’s Tommy Smith and PEC Zwolle’s Ryan Thomas, so do not fully count them out.
All to Play For
If New Zealand were to advance, it would be a major shock. It wouldn’t be the first time they have caused upset on the world stage, though. They were the only unbeaten team at the 2010 finals in South Africa, drawing all three of their group games. It was not enough to advance to the knockout stages, though it did prove they could hold their own in a big tournament setting.
Standing in their way tonight though are an in-form side, boasting talents such as Watford’s Andre Carrillo and Christian Cueva of Sao Paulo. It would be a massive ask of the All Whites to get a result tonight, but with the only one place remaining for the trip to Russia, be sure that they will fight Peru all the way.