Hopes alive after a sterling effort
The good news is New Zealand are still in with a shot of qualifying for next year’s World Cup at the halfway stage of their intercontinental playoff against Peru after yesterday’s 0-0 draw in Wellington.
The bad news is the All Whites now have to do it all over again — and then some — to get the positive result they need in Lima on Thursday to confirm a place in Russia.
But that was a given as soon as South America were confirmed as Oceania’s playoff opponents.
The All Whites are in a better position than many feared after the first leg — certainly much better than four years ago, when routed 5-1 in Mexico City.
And yesterday’s meritorious draw — equalling New Zealand’s best ever result against South American opposition — came with Chris Wood, his team’s biggest attacking threat, playing only the last 15 minutes.
If only he’d been there for the full 90. In his short time on the pitch, the All Whites looked far more threatening in the final third.
After producing almost nothing of note, New Zealand created some good chances, including the best of the match, when Ryan Thomas flashed a shot wide in the 86th minute. It was a haunting miss for a player again among New Zealand’s best.
Stefan Marinovic also starred for the All Whites, making two crucial saves, one from a corner early in the second half and the other avoiding an embarrassing early own goal.
Playoffs can be decided by fine margins. Top of New Zealand’s to-do list was not concede an early goal and they were centimetres away from doing just that after some calamitous defending from Winston Reid and Tommy Smith in the seventh minute. Only Marinovic’s desperate dive saved his side from a gaffe that could have set the tone.
Both teams started slowly, happy to hold the ball at the back, and the pace of the game never really picked up, with fast breaks almost nonexistent. They both played like they were happy to see out a scoreless first half, with the intention of nicking a late goal. And at 0-0 at halftime, the match was probably going to plan for both coaches.
Unusually, Peru don’t have names on the backs of their shirts. Deliberate or not, it reinforces the perception the team is more important than the individual for Peru. Unlike the other leading South American sides, they have no world-class stars and nobody featuring in the world’s best leagues.
Despite that, Peru showed why they excelled in the tough South American qualifiers with a settled core of players who know each other well, work hard for each other and are extremely hard to beat.
Peru were the form team heading out of the South American qualifiers. After six of the 18 games, they had just four points. But in the last 12 games from September last year, they earned 22 points, at least four more than every other side except Brazil.
The stark statistics showed All Whites fans had no right to hope for any kind of positive result. Before yesterday’s game, both teams had played 14 internationals in the past 13 months. Peru won eight, drew four and lost two, all against South and North American opposition.
While the All Whites produced several encouraging performances in that time, once the games against fellow Oceania teams are taken away, their record reads played eight, drew one, lost seven.
In fact, the All Whites have beaten just one non-Oceania team during Anthony Hudson’s three years in charge — a 1-0 win in Oman two years ago.
So what chance of a positive result on Thursday? Of the 28 internationals Peru have played in Lima since 2010, they’ve won 17, drawn seven and lost just four: one-goal defeats in World Cup qualifiers against Colombia in 2012, Uruguay in 2013 and Chile in 2015, plus a 2-0 defeat to Brazil last year.
Regardless of the outcome in Lima, the All Whites can take heart from a battling performance that saw them foot it with the world’s 10th-best team.
All White Ryan Thomas tackles Andre Carrillo.