PERU meet New Zealand in the first of a two-legged affair. Will Dyer (@w2dyer) racks his brain for the best angle in this World Cup inter-confederation play-off, who’ll have the upper hand?
New Zealand v Peru | Saturday 11th November 2017, 03:15
The OFC and CONMEBOL inter-confederation play-off between New Zealand and Peru gets underway on Saturday, with the two-legged winner bagging a ticket to Russia 2018. It will be the first meeting between the two nations.
Since Australia were moved from the OFC (Oceania) to AFC (Asia) confederation by FIFA ahead of the 2010 World Cup, New Zealand have been involved in both play-offs, as is expected with minnow nations like Solomon Islands and Fiji their earlier hurdles.
2010 pitched New Zealand kindly with the Middle-Eastern and relative football newcomer Bahrain; the Kiwis qualified with a 1-0 away win all that could separate the sides. Ahead of 2014 the process was less kind to NZ as they drew Mexico and were duly thumped 9-3 on aggregate.
The All Whites have been two to World Cups, 2010 and Spain 1982. Neither campaigns assembled a win but in South Africa they were exceptionally solid, collecting three draws. Unfortunately, despite going unbeaten (even drawing 1-1 with the holders at that time, Italy) they exited at the Group Stage as Paraguay and Slovakia both gathered more points.
As for Peru, La Blanquirroja have made four World Cups but it’s been 36 years since their last appearance. In the 1982 tournament, NZ were ranked dead last with zero points and a -10 goal difference but Peru managed two draws, against Cameroon and, like NZ would achieve in 2010, a 1-1 draw with eventual winners Italy.
Contrast in qualifying
Peru have done exceptionally well to get this far. The ultra-competitive South American qualifying group sets teams out on an 18-game round robin format and the result is a group where just 11 points separated the seven teams from Uruguay in second to Ecuador in eighth.
Ricardo Gareca’s men are here at the expense of World Cup regulars Chile and Paraguay and arrive on the back of an eight-game unbeaten run which includes holding Argentina to a 0-0 draw in Buenos Aires.
Gareca’s Argentinian himself and it seems his wealth of experience around the continent at club level has inspired Peru; they’ve lost just two of their last 12 qualifiers and even those were away in difficult Chile and at home to runaway group winners Brazil.
The South Americans will call upon a relatively young squad in Wellington to take them back to Lima in a comfortable position. Jefferson Farfan and interim captain Alberto Rodriguez are the only players aged over 29 and expected to start.
Captain not-so fantastic
Paolo Guerrero, the usual captain, had to withdraw from the squad after failing a drug test. The 33-year-old was their top scorer in the group stage with six goals. He’s their record scorer so there’s no denying they’ll miss him but goals can still be found in Farfan and youngsters Edison Flores and Christian Cueva.
Peru have kept it much tighter in the last two years, conceding just 17 goals in as many competitive games since the beginning of 2016. Whereas they shipped 11 goals in the five qualifiers in 2015. That’s largely down to a change in centre-back partnership from Carlos’ Zambrano and Ascues to the new captain Rodriguez and Christian Ramos, a more experienced duo.
New Zealand are managed by 36-year-old Anthony Hudson, the Seattle-born Englishman’s father being Alan, the former Chelsea, Arsenal and England midfielder.
Anthony is only six months older than the ever-green Shane Smeltz, who makes the squad but largely in the shadow of Burnley’s Chris Wood. The boss became one of the youngest coaches to ever earn a UEFA Pro License when he did so in 2012, so he demands respect.
Plucky pub side?
The problem for Hudson is the All Whites squad depth. They must call upon the likes of seventh-tier Dorchester Town striker Rory Fallon, another non-leaguer Max Crocombe of Salford City and Deklan Wynne, a Vancouver Whitecaps B-team defender.
The All Whites do have some good players, Marco Rojas, Andrew Durante, Wood, Kostas Barbarouses, Winston Reid and Michael McGlinchey who are all key men for their clubs but it has to be said there are some other players just making up the numbers.
Guerrero withdrawn though, I think Peru are overrated to win on the other side of the Pacific at 4/5. The away goals rule counts here so bagging a goal could be essential but their ability to do that is reduced without him and I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a 0-0 as a result.
With the stats of first legs in mind, I’ll back the bore-draw at 17/2 with Betfair and I’ll also have a play on the Kiwis to avoid defeat via Double Chance at 21/20 with 188Bet. They’re a stubborn outfit and can repeat the feats of 2010.