Wood good to go; doubt over Smith
WELLINGTON: All Whites boss Anthony Hudson has backed star striker Chris Wood to start in this afternoon’s World Cup intercontinental playoff against Peru, but is more circumspect on the chances of Tommy Smith.
The Burnleybased Wood came off the bench in Saturday’s 00 firstleg draw in Wellington due to a hamstring issue, playing just 19 minutes.
Yet despite continuing to feel tightness in his hamstring, Wood is more than likely to start the second leg in Lima as the All Whites chase a spot in Russia.
Hudson admitted the 25yearold poacher was among New Zealand’s more important players, with his strength, linkup play and finishing considered crucial — particularly in a cauldronlike atmosphere.
But he would nevertheless go into the second leg quietly confident.
The likes of Marco Rojas, Kosta Barbarouses and Clayton Lewis could also chip in with goals, while Shane Smeltz remained a bench option.
‘‘We’re not putting all of our faith in Chris as we have lots of other players who can score goals and have scored goals away from home against big teams, and caused problems against big teams,’’ Hudson said.
Wood, the side’s vicecaptain, would also add plenty of leadership and Premier Leaguelevel experience in a challenging environment.
The injury fortunes of Smith (27), however, seem more grim.
With his side more than likely to adopt a conservative approach in Lima, Hudson admitted his Ipswichbased defender remained touch and go for the game.
He was taken off in the second half in Wellington with a calf complaint.
Hudson said Smith would be rested yesterday before undergoing a final fitness test this morning.
He has already lost right back Storm Roux to a minor ankle problem.
Peru striker Jefferson Farfan touched upon the importance of Smith and the side’s other rangy defenders in Los Incas’ press conference.
The five Kiwi defenders who started Saturday’s firstleg draw measured an average 1.84m, while the four Peruvians who played up front averaged 174cm. Smith stands 1.88m tall.
‘‘The fact is that this game is going to be as hard and complicated as the game was in New Zealand, because it’s not easy to play against the walls that make up their defence,’’ the Lokomotiv Moscowbased Farfan said. — NZNH
WHILE most of us in Otago will be cheering on the All Whites this afternoon, one Queenstown football fan will be doing the opposite.
Angel Maamaai moved to New Zealand from Peru two years ago, but his loyalties remain with his home country.
He is excited about today’s game, in which the All Whites face Peru in Lima, with the winner set to advance to next year’s World Cup.
While the 28yearold is hopeful of a Peru win, he was apologetic in giving his scoreline prediction.
‘‘My score is two Peru and All Whites zero, I’m sorry,’’ he said.
He had made the most of having his home team in his adopted country and travelled to Wellington for the first leg of the qualifier on Saturday.
That had been ‘‘amazing’’, although the 00 result had not been so pleasing.
It left Peru needing a win today to advance to its first World Cup finals since 1982.
While the home side will enter the match as favourite, Maamaai said captain Paolo Guerrero’s positive drug test was a big loss as he was important to the team.
Originally from Cusco, Peru, Maamaai is enjoying living in New Zealand and working in a restaurant.
He has no plans to leave either.
‘‘I want to stay in New Zealand; I love Kiwi people.’’
The game kicks off at 3.15pm this afternoon as the All Whites look to qualify for their third World Cup.
A win would do that, but a goalscoring draw would be enough, as away goals count for two when the aggregate score is tied.
The All Whites delivered a solid defensive performance in Wellington on Saturday, although will be looking to show more of an attacking threat.
Having Chris Wood — who played just the last 15 minutes on Saturday due to injury — back in the starting lineup will be crucial for that.
However, goals have been in many cases difficult to come by in the World Cup qualifiers, with several scoreless draws in playoffs in the past week.
Upsets have been prominent too, most notably with fourtime winner Italy to miss its first World Cup finals since 1958.
Others to not make the final cut have been the Netherlands and the United States.
In the lion’s den . . . Captain Winston Reid (left) and coach Anthony Hudson attend a press conference in Peru yesterday.
A Peruvian shaman in Lima carries a boa constrictor yesterday during a ritual in which he put a curse on the All Whites.
Go Peru . . . Angel Maamaai (28) shows his support for Peru in Queenstown yesterday before today’s match against the All Whites in Lima.