World Cup play­off means the world

Manawatu Standard - - Sport - LIAM HYS­LOP

OPIN­ION: Let me keep this brief, be­cause the foot­ball will do a lot of the talk­ing this af­ter­noon.

But the World Cup play­off sec­ond leg be­tween New Zealand and Peru in Lima will be the big­gest game in eight and 35 years re­spec­tively for either na­tion.

For New Zealand it rep­re­sents a gen­uine shot at get­ting back to the World Cup for the first time since 2010. They qual­i­fied for that tour­na­ment on the back of a nervy 1-0 sec­ond leg play­off win over Bahrain in 2009, although that was at home in Wellington that year.

You can for­get four years ago when they were pumped 9-3 on ag­gre­gate by Mex­ico. Many thought this year’s con­test against world No 10 Peru would go the same way, but this is a much bet­ter New Zealand side.

Qual­i­fi­ca­tion would fill New Zealand Foot­ball’s cof­fers to the tune of $11m from the prize­money for just mak­ing the World Cup, but the intangible hope is that a new gen­er­a­tion of foot­ball fans and play­ers would be cre­ated by mak­ing it back to foot­ball’s show­piece event.

Stand­ing in their way is a pas­sion­ate foot­ball na­tion which hasn’t been to a World Cup since 1982.

A win for Peru would def­i­nitely mean a lot more to their coun­try than New Zealand. Some have es­ti­mated the po­ten­tial boost to the Peru econ­omy from World Cup qual­i­fi­ca­tion to be more than $1 bil­lion.

So which na­tion will be­come the 32nd and fi­nal team to book their spot at the 2018 World Cup in Rus­sia? For mine, it’s New Zealand with a Chris Wood win­ner in a 1-0 tri­umph, but I’d hardly be­grudge a Peru­vian his own his­tory-mak­ing goal.

More than any­thing, I’m just look­ing for­ward to ob­serv­ing what should be a mar­vel­lous spec­ta­cle of the great­est game on earth.

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