- Play-off between New Zealand and Peru will decide final ticket to Russia
- Record crowd expected in New Zealand for first leg
- Peru start as favourites but the All Whites are proven tough opponents
The very last ticket to the 32-nation field at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ will be determined as New Zealand and Peru do battle. New Zealand will host the South Americans in Wellington on Saturday, before the intercontinental play-off is completed four days later in Lima.
For both nations, qualification would mark a milestone moment. That is especially true for Peru who have waited 36 years since a Teofilo Cubillas-inspired golden generation competed at Spain 1982. That marked a third qualification in four tournaments for Peru, whose only other appearance was the inaugural edition of football’s showpiece in 1930.
Spain 1982 is also a landmark in New Zealand football thanks to an against-the-odds breakthrough qualification by an all-amateur side. The All Whites doubled their World Cup tally with a memorable 2009 win over Bahrain at the same venue that will be used for Saturday’s first leg.
The matches will mark a first intercontinental play-off for Peru, while Oceania champions New Zealand are facing their third in succession. Wednesday’s second leg will take place eight years and one day since New Zealand’s qualification for South Africa 2010.
All Whites aim to repeat history
New Zealand topped the Oceania region in September but with no automatic spot on offer, they have had to wait until now for their tilt at Russia 2018. Interest has been high for the match and a national record football crowd in the rugby-mad nation is expected. The attendance is set to eclipse that set for the World Cup play-off eight years ago, an event regularly described as one of the “most memorable” in New Zealand sport.
Four years ago New Zealand crashed to a hefty aggregate defeat against Mexico, but this is a very different All Whites side - one that has been steadily building under English-born coach Anthony Hudson. Aside from a late collapse against Portugal at this year’s FIFA Confederations Cup, the Kiwis have been highly competitive whenever facing higher-ranked opponents of late. They are set to have a full complement of players available, including inspirational captain Winston Reid.
Peru’s dream in touching distance
A goal here or there in South American qualifying was all that stood between Peru gaining automatic qualification or even missing out on a play-off. Peru finished fifth in the continent’s notoriously tight competition, thanks to a fine run over the past year that has seen them unbeaten for eight matches.
One negative is the suspension of star forward Paolo Guerrero, with the experienced Jefferson Farfan set to feature prominently in his stead. Peru will be boosted by a handy contingent of fans in Wellington who have travelled across the Pacific for what they hope will be a slice of history for Peruvian football.
Players to watch
Chris Wood has become New Zealand’s headline-grabber of late following some prolific form for club and country. The tall striker, who captained the side at the Confederations Cup, enjoyed a breakout season at Leeds United last season, before linking with Premier League club Burnley where he has immediately settled into goalscoring form.
Much interest will fall on Jefferson Farfan in the absence of Guerrero. It will be a final shot at glory for the veteran speedster who has enjoyed 15 years donning the colours of Los Incas. Qualification would be doubly special for Farfan, who plies his trade in Russia for Lokomotiv Moscow.
The stat 8 – New Zealand’s squad includes eight players from the roster that successfully qualified for South Africa 2010.
New Zealand-Peru, Wellington, 11 November
Peru-New Zealand, Lima, 15 November