The All Whites have kept their hopes of qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup alive after a spirited scoreless draw against World No 10 Peru today in Wellington.
Walking out to a near-capacity crowd of over 37,000, the hosts put on a determined performance which showed they could match the fifth-ranked South American side.
The OFC Nations Cup champions will travel to Lima tomorrow for the away leg on Wednesday (Thursday NZT) with the chance to make history by becoming only the third team from New Zealand to qualify for a FIFA World Cup.
The home crowd gave them every chance of starting the tie in dominant fashion. The atmosphere at the ground was fever pitch with large contingents of Peruvian fans making their presence felt in the sea of white around Westpac Stadium.
Anthony Hudson’s team suffered a blow ahead of kick-off with talismanic striker Chris Wood on the bench due to a hamstring injury for the much-anticipated home leg. The Burnley striker came on late in the second half to a huge roar from the home crowd.
Skipper Winston Reid, in his first home game for three years, showed what the fans have been missing with an assured performance at the back that kept a number of attacking waves at bay.
In the seventh minute, the hearts of All Whites supporters were in their mouths when there was confusion at the back and Stefan Marinovic was forced to scurry back to his line and claw the ball away to prevent Peru going ahead.
Soon after Peru had another chance when Andre Carrillo whipped in a dangerous cross which Jefferson Farfan got his head to but it deflected just wide.
Another good opportunity fell at the feet of Yordy Reina as he weaved on the edge of the box but his shot was off target as the visitors became increasingly frustrated.
After the frenetic start, Hudson’s side found their way into the game with midfielder Ryan Thomas at the heart of much of New Zealand’s best attacking play.
In the 33rd minute, Kosta Barbarouses was played into the box by Thomas on the end of a Deklan Wynne run. But he was at a tight angle and put his left-footed shot across the face of goal.
The All Whites continued their momentum after the break but the Peruvian defence was difficult to break down as chances for either side proved hard to come by.
Peru’s best opportunity of the second half arrived in the 63rd minute when Aldo Corzo headed a corner towards goal but All Whites keeper Stefan Marinovic made an outstanding save to tip the effort over the bar.
The hosts received a huge boost in the 74th minute when Wood rose off the bench, much to the delight of the crowd.
His introduction served to inspire his team mates as the All Whites came home strongly. They went agonisingly close to winning the game when, with just four minutes left on the clock, a Bill Tuiloma cross made its way to Thomas. The midfielder struck his effort sweetly but, to the dismay of Thomas and the huge crowd, it shaved the outside of the post.
Coach Anthony Hudson was pleased with the result but insists the job is far from done.
“The mindset for us is that we’ve not achieved anything yet. It’s now all about making sure we recover, travel well and do a professional job when we get up there,” he said.
“We said from the beginning that it’s not 90 minutes, it’s 180 minutes and we have to be in the game in the last 15 minutes over in Lima. We’re looking forward to going there and this actually suits us, we’re used to that type of adversity.”
All Whites coach Anthony Hudson
FIFA World Cup Intercontinental Playoff
New Zealand 0
New Zealand 1. Stefan Marinovic, 2. Winston Reid (c), 3. Deklan Wynne, 5. Michael Boxall, 7. Kosta Barbarouses, 8. Michael McGlinchey, 11. Marco Rojas (6. Bill Tuiloma 78’), 14. Ryan Thomas, 15. Clayton Lewis (9. Chris Wood 74’), 18. Kip Colvey, 20. Tommy Smith (22. Andrew Durante 68’)
Substitutes not used: 4 Themi Tzimopolous, 10. Shane Smeltz, 12. Glen Moss (GK), 16. Dane Ingham, 17. Jeremy Brockie, 19. Rory Fallon, 23. Max Crocombe (GK)
Cautions: Michael McGlinchey 68’, Michael Boxall 75’