Satur­day play­off best for All Whites

NZ Foot­ball hope­ful over Novem­ber 11 date for World Cup play­off with Peru in cap­i­tal

The New Zealand Herald - - SPORT - Michael Burgess

New Zealand Foot­ball hope their block­buster World Cup home play­off with Peru can be staged in Welling­ton on Satur­day, Novem­ber 11, in the af­ter­noon. But that is de­pen­dent on ne­go­ti­a­tions in the next few days.

The All Whites’ op­po­nents for next month’s intercontinental play­off were con­firmed on Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon af­ter a fran­tic fi­nal round of South Amer­i­can play­off games.

NZF has been in dis­cus­sions with Peru in the past few days, even be­fore the An­dean na­tion was con­firmed as the op­po­si­tion.

They have con­veyed their pref­er­ences around the tim­ing of the match to the Peru Foot­ball Fed­er­a­tion and Fifa. If the two na­tions can agree, then Fifa just needs to rub­ber stamp the dates, but if there is no com­mon ground, then the Swiss gov­ern­ing body will make the de­ci­sion.

NZF chief ex­ec­u­tive Andy Martin ex­pects the match dates to be fi­nalised by the end of this week.

“It’s a com­pli­cated sit­u­a­tion,” Martin told the Her­ald.

“To get to New Zealand for game one, and to get back to South Amer­ica for game two, we need to be very care­ful with lo­gis­tics, travel and ex­pec­ta­tions.”

Martin con­firmed NZF’s pref­er­ence, from a foot­ball and com­mer­cial view, is for the home leg to be on the Satur­day af­ter­noon.

“We would ab­so­lutely pre­fer Satur­day,” said Martin. “If it was Fri­day, it would be the same sit­u­a­tion as last time [against the Solomon Is­lands] where a lot of the play­ers are com­ing in late from Europe and Amer­ica.”

Dur­ing the Septem­ber win­dow, the likes of Chris Wood (Burn­ley) and Ryan Thomas (PEC Zwolle) didn’t ar­rive in New Zealand un­til Tues­day, which meant they were lim­ited to one full train­ing ses­sion be­fore the Fri­day night match at QBE Sta­dium in Al­bany.

How­ever, the fi­nal de­ci­sion will de­pend on when the sec­ond leg play­off will be, and the lo­gis­tics of get­ting to South Amer­ica in good time.

“We will be out as quick as we can ... if it is Fri­day, we will leave on Satur­day,” said Martin. “If it is Satur­day [af­ter­noon], we will try to leave late Satur­day night or early Sun­day morn­ing. We have al­ready done a lot of work on it on all the pos­si­bil­i­ties.”

The broad­cast ar­range­ments also come into con­sid­er­a­tion. From a com­mer­cial view, an af­ter­noon kick­off is prefer­able, to cap­ture the mas­sive tele­vi­sion au­di­ence in South Amer­ica at a favourable time.

But a Fri­day af­ter­noon wouldn’t work in Welling­ton in terms of a live crowd and New Zealand tele­vi­sion, which is another rea­son why Satur­day is the first choice for NZF.

But it all de­pends on the de­sires of Peru. If they push for a Mon­day match for the re­turn leg (Tues­day NZT), then a Satur­day game in Welling­ton would NZ Foot­ball CEO Andy Martin be lo­gis­ti­cally im­pos­si­ble. How­ever, that is seen as un­likely, given the ma­jor­ity of their team play in Europe.

But de­spite NZF’s stated pref­er­ence and all the other fac­tors that make Satur­day a log­i­cal op­tion, it’s prob­a­bly a 50-50 call. Fifa are nat­u­rally con­ser­va­tive and may see Satur­day as too late in the win­dow (which runs from Novem­ber 6-14) to stage the first game.

The 2013 intercontinental playoffs with Mex­ico, which had the same lo­gis­ti­cal chal­lenges, were held on Wed­nes­days seven days apart, with the first leg on Novem­ber 13 in Mex­ico and the re­turn on Novem­ber 20 in Welling­ton.

But that was a longer Fifa win­dow, and New Zealand’s Euro­pean-based play­ers such as Chris Wood and Tommy Smith missed the pre­ced­ing week’s matches with their Euro­pean clubs to as­sem­ble in North Amer­ica ear­lier than will be pos­si­ble this time. Peru’s out­stand­ing man­ager is 59-year-old Ar­gen­tinian Ri­cardo Gareca, a striker who played 20 matches for his coun­try in the 1980s. Gareca was ap­pointed in early 2015 when Peru were strug­gling with a world rank­ing around 50. He has taken them to their best rank­ing of 11. They are cur­rently 12th com­pared with their av­er­age rank­ing of 55. Gareca was known as “The Thin One” or “The Tiger” dur­ing his play­ing ca­reer. Peru foot­ball of­fi­cial Juan Car­los Obli­tas told the “Ri­cardo has a pos­i­tive spirit that I have seen in very few peo­ple . . . when you touch on a neg­a­tive topic, he asks you to move on from there.” Gareca scored the match-draw­ing qual­i­fi­ca­tion goal against Peru which took Ar­gentina to the 1986 fi­nals in Mex­ico. He missed se­lec­tion for the Diego Maradona-led team which won the World Cup. e n 0 0 n a

Andy Martin

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