Tense stalemate leaves World Cup berth in the balance
Tight scoreless draw leaves New Zealand-Peru play-off in the balance
New Zealand had best chance to score late on in match of few chances
Return leg on Wednesday will decide final nation to qualify for Russia 2018
New Zealand and Peru played out a finely-balanced scoreless draw on Saturday leaving all to play in Lima on Wednesday when 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifying draws to a close.
Peru started far stronger in Wellington but New Zealand forced their way into the contest after half-time, and only a matter of inches denied the All Whites a late winner.
Sunny skies and a perfect pitch welcomed the teams in the New Zealand capital, but it was the home side that started nervously.
There was nearly a disaster for the Oceania champions in the opening minutes as a defensive mix-up saw the ball trickle towards goal, requiring goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic to dive backwards and flick the ball right off the line. It proved to be Peru’s best chance of the match.
Both goalkeepers were spectators for periods of the match as the two sides struggled to settle into a rhythm, although the sometimes physical nature of the contest was a reminder of the rich prize on offer.
After being outplayed early, it was New Zealand who had the better of possession in the second half, although Peru’s Aldo Corzo forced Marinovic into a sharp save with a powerful header.
Star New Zealand striker Chris Wood, who surprisingly started on the bench, came on with less than 20 minutes remaining as the home side pushed for a winner. And they very nearly got it as the impressive Ryan Thomas saw his half-volley shave the post, after the midfielder had pounced on a loose ball in the penalty area.
Peru, who are seeking to end a 36-year World Cup drought, will feel they have the advantage but an away goal would change momentum in the final match of global qualifying for Russia 2018.