Hopes alive af­ter a ster­ling ef­fort

Herald on Sunday - - IN OTHER NEWS - By Si­mon Kay

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.

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