OPINION: Whatever happens in Lima this week, don't lose sight of what happened at Westpac Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The All Whites' 0-0 draw with Peru is one of the greatest results in New Zealand football history. This game deserves comparisons with the team's 1–1 draw with Italy at the 2010 World Cup. This game may not have been at football's showpiece event, but the pressure and the stakes were just as high.
The performance and the result highlights the truly incredible leap this team has made in three years under Anthony Hudson.
When he came on board, the All Whites needed rescuing. They were a rabble. Flogged 9-3 by Mexico in the 2013 playoff, it was clear the team lacked cohesion, culture and a plan. I felt the team were eight years away from being competitive again on the world stage. It's taken three.
The rebuild hasn't been pretty at times. Controversial selections combined with some poor results left plenty of critics wondering, but yesterday's result removes the doubt. This team has made giant strides under Hudson.
A big part of that is down to the stellar talent he has at his disposal - players who have matured into skilful, world-class professionals.
Winston Reid's performance yesterday was Ryan Nelsen-esque. He may be softly spoken, but there is no doubt Reid has followed Nelsen's lead-by-example captaincy style, and developed into a genuine on-field general. With Tommy Smith and Michael Boxall outside him, this defensive unit is as solid as the one led by Nelsen at the 2010 World Cup, and arguably more mobile.
Ryan Thomas is on track to become one of our greatest-ever footballers. At such a young age, he is incredibly mature and a model professional. He was arguably the best on pitch in Wellington. He was involved in all of the All Whites' best attacking moments, and went agonisingly close to grabbing what would have been an epic late winner in front of the White Noise crew.
Even with Chris Wood on the bench - a move I am convinced was tactical - this team more than competed with their opponents sitting an incredible 112 places ahead of them on the FIFA rankings. Reid and Thomas were supported by an energetic Kosta Barbarouses, an industrious Michael McGlinchey, and a probing Marco Rojas. Even Stefan Marinovic, with his early scrambling heroics and sharp reflexes, was a safe pair of hands at the back. He has perhaps been the discovery of Hudson's reign as coach.
Perhaps most pleasing was the fact the All Whites went toe-to-toe with a South American nation by playing a style football fans can be proud of. This was not lump-it-forward anti-football. The All Whites looked to play the ball on the ground, making the most of the qualities of the small, skilful players in the front third. This is football that will win hearts, minds, and new fans.
When Oceania drew CONMEBOL in the intercontinental playoff draw, most had written off our World Cup hopes. Russia is now a distinct possibility. But even if the All Whites go down in Lima, Hudson and his team have New Zealand Football's flagship team back on track.
Andrew Gourdie is a Newshub sports reporter/presenter and host of RadioLIVE's Sunday Sport from 2pm