There’s a confidence emanating out of both camps ahead the momentous first leg of the FIFA World Cup intercontinental playoff between New Zealand and Peru in Wellington on Saturday afternoon.
Oceania champions New Zealand head into the match as heavy underdogs on paper given for one, the difference of 112 places on the FIFA rankings but All Whites coach Anthony Hudson, flanked by English Premier League players Winston Reid and Chris Wood at the team’s press conference laid out a simple blueprint for his side, and maintained belief would be deciding factor.
“We’re a small squad, a small team but really good group of players,” Hudson said.
“What we need to do tomorrow is completely believe in ourselves and not to be afraid of the task. Play the game rather than getting carried away with the occasion. Stick to the game plan, trust each other.
“That’s the only standing in our way to get to Russia,” Hudson stressed, “we’re good enough. Everyone in our team is good enough. That’s what we need tomorrow.”
“What gives me confidence is we’ve had a good week of training, we’ve got a great group of players. I’d be in a different place psychologically if I didn’t back the players but I get to this point trusting my players. We’ve got a good plan, a good team, everybody understands what we need to do so that gives me confidence.
Peru, who are undefeated throughout 2017, are chasing their first World Cup qualification in 32 years but like his New Zealand counterpart Peru coach Ricardo Gareca said form, history, or perceived strength meant nothing on the day.
“Maybe the media have installed us as favourites but the reality is both teams start from zero and in matches like this that are so important the teams are equals and you never know,” the Argentinian said.
“New Zealand is a good team and it’s not just strong in one area. We will pay attention to the team in general because the whole team has got good qualities.”
All Whites captain Winston Reid who played at the 2010 FIFA World Cup but has yet to taste an intercontinental play-off after missing the 2013 matches against Mexico through injury, echoed his coach’s thoughts about how well New Zealand are placed.
“I’m looking forward to it. It’s obviously a long time since I’ve been back to play in New Zealand so I really wanted to stay fit and make the trip home. But I’m here and ready for the game,” Reid said.
“Like Anthony said, I’d be more nervous if we hadn’t prepared well. We’ve been working hard and we’ve done all our homework and that gives me great confidence in the group and for myself it’s just a game and we have to go out and execute the game plan. We have to keep it simple and play to our strengths.”
Although Reid can call on a wealth of experience with West Ham in the gruelling week-to-week schedule of the English Premier League, he said the stakes over the next week set the play-off apart as he reflected on the chance to join Steve Sumner and Ryan Nelsen as New Zealand skippers who successfully led their sides to a FIFA World Cup.
“Tomorrow will be different because in the Premier League they are one-off games but there’s so much at stake over these two games. Our world cup cycle depends on these games. But, I think come tomorrow you’ll see a team that’s going to be ready and well prepared.
“It would be an amazing accomplishment [to captain a team to a World Cup] but I just want to be there for the team in whatever way possible to help us qualify.
“It’s not just up to me, the leadership group have to be the driving force behind this and we’re fortunate that we’ve got a good senior group, but for me it would mean everything to lead this team to a World Cup.”
The match kicks off at 4.15 on Saturday (NZST) with the return leg in Lima, Peru on Wednesday (local time).
FIFA World Cup Intercontinental Playoff – First leg
New Zealand v Peru
Westpac Stadium, Wellington, New Zealand
Saturday 11 November
Kick off: 4.15pm
New Zealand: 1. Stefan MARINOVIC (GK), 2. Winston REID (c), 3. Deklan WYNNE, 4. Themi TZIMOPOULOS, 5. Michael BOXALL, 6. Bill TUILOMA, 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES, 8. Michael McGLINCHEY, 9. Chris WOOD, 10. Shane SMELTZ, 11. Marco ROJAS, 12. Glen MOSS (GK), 13. Monty PATTERSON, 14. Ryan THOMAS, 15. Clayton LEWIS, 16. Dane INGHAM, 17. Jeremy BROCKIE, 18. Kip COLVEY, 19. Rory FALLON, 20. Tommy SMITH, 21. Storm ROUX, 22. Andrew DURANTE, 23. Max CROCOMBE (GK)
Coach: Anthony HUDSON (ENG)
Peru: 1. Pedro GALLESE (GK), 2. Alberto RODRÍGUEZ, 3. Aldo CORZO, 4. Anderson SANTAMARIA, 5. Miguel ARAUJO, 6. Miguel TRAUCO, 7. José MANZANEDA, 8. Wilder CARTAGENA, 10. Christian CUEVA, 11. Raúl RUIDÍAZ, 12. Carlos CÁCEDA (GK), 13. Renato TAPIA, 14. Andy POLO, 15. Christian RAMOS, 17. Luis ADVÍNCULA, 18. André CARRILLO, 19. Yoshimar YOTÚN, 20. Edison FLORES, 21. José CARVALLO, 22. Nilson LOYOLA, 23. Pedro AQUINO, Sergio PEÑA, Paolo HURTADO, Jefferson FARFAN, Luis ABRAM
Coach: Ricardo GARECA (ARG)