Saturday playoff best for All Whites
NZ Football hopeful over November 11 date for World Cup playoff with Peru in capital
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