Peru failed to break down a resolute New Zealand defence in a 0-0 draw in Wellington Saturday, leaving their dream of ending a 36-year absence from the World Cup finals hanging by a thread.
“Los Incas” failed to score a coveted away goal despite largely outplaying New Zealand in the opening match of their two-legged World Cup play-off for a spot at next year’s tournament in Russia.
Peru, ranked 10th in the world to New Zealand’s 122, were the better team but lacked a cutting edge, with the absence of goal-scoring captain Paolo Guerrero, who is currently suspended over an “abnormal result” from a drugs test.
New Zealand worked tirelessly in defence and rode their luck at times, but grew in confidence as the game progressed.
Peru coach Ricardo Gareca praised New Zealand’s tenacity but said his side should have won and he expected a big performance in the return leg in Lima on Wednesday.
“If someone deserved to win Peru deserved it. That’s what I feel,” he told reporters.
“I have faith that when we are playing at home we’ll have the support of all our people… we have all the conditions to play a good game in Peru.”
New Zealand coach Anthony Hudson was delighted to head to Lima on even terms but said the job was only half done.
“It’s an incredibly good result for us but we’re not in a position to be settling on that… the mindset is we’ve achieved nothing and we want to go to Russia,” he told reporters.
He said the Kiwis would not be intimidated by Peru’s fanatical home support because New Zealand’s remoteness meant his side almost always played on the road.
“Honestly, we’ve been Globetrotters for the last three years. We’ve gone to some crazy environments and different cultures and languages and time zones,” he said.
“So we’re really well set up to handle adversity. This won’t trouble us. The travel won’t trouble us.”
– Squandered chances –
New Zealand showed early nerves, almost conceding a goal in the sixth minute with indecisive defending that forced keeper Stefan Marinovic to race back and palm the ball off the line.
The visitors dominated in midfield, allowing Andre Carrillo to pepper New Zealand’s box with crosses searching in vain for a finish from striker Jefferson Farfan.
It was 20 minutes before the first meaningful New Zealand attack, when Ryan Thomas won a corner only to send the ball over the head of a leaping Tommy Smith.
There were chances at either end for New Zealand’s Kosta Barbarouses and Christian Cueva of Peru but both shot wide.
Peru continued to build patiently, although Farfan appeared to struggle as the target man in Guerrero’s absence.
He failed to capitalise as more New Zealand errors led to a goalmouth scramble 10 minutes before the break.
Peru came out firing in the second half, forcing Marinovic into two saves in two minutes.
He instinctively stopped Aldo Corzo’s short range header then calmly dealt with Edison Flores’ shot from the edge of the box.
New Zealand’s best spell came when striker Chris Wood came on in the 72nd minute after starting on the substitutes’ bench due to a hamstring niggle.
The big striker rattled Peru’s defence, creating space for teammates Barbarouses and Thomas, who both squandered gilt-edged opportunities to take the lead.
Wood is expected to start in the return leg on November 15 at the Estadio Nacional in Lima, while Peru are likely to still be missing Guerrero.
Peru have qualified for the finals four times — 1930, 1970, 1978 and 1982 — making the quarter-finals in 1970.
New Zealand have made two finals appearances — 1982 and 2010 — exiting the latter campaign undefeated after three draws in the group stages.