Andrew Gourdie: All Whites vs Peru - what to expect

OPINION: Expect a strange feeling at the end of the All Whites' intercontinental playoff match against Peru at Westpac Stadium.

Fans are used to celebrating or crying into their beer when the 90 minutes is up. But when the full-time whistle blows it'll only be half time in the playoff to decide which team will advance to Russia. Whatever the result, there will be no overall winner tomorrow.

Two-legged football ties are tactical affairs. Expect this one to be no different.

Usually home advantage in the second leg provides an enormous advantage to the host, but in this instance it suits the All Whites - and improves their chances of qualifying - to play the first leg at home. Four years ago they were completely overwhelmed by Mexico at Estadio Azteca, where a 5-1 victory ended New Zealand's hopes before a ball was kicked in the Wellington.

The lesson learned is that it's vital to keep the tie alive heading into the second, so expect a somewhat conservative approach from the All Whites in Wellington. While fans will want to see goals and will dream of a victory, the priority must be to frustrate their opponent and pile the pressure on Peru when they play in front of their home fans. The South American nation expects their team - ranked 112 places higher than the All Whites - to win easily in Wellington and create a celebratory mood for the second leg in Lima. Anything else will bring unwanted pressure for a team seeking to end a 35-year absence from football's showpiece event.

Ryan Thomas may just be NZ's most important player in Wellington.
Ryan Thomas may just be NZ's most important player in Wellington. Photo credit: Photosport

With this in mind, expect Peru to adopt an all-out attack approach and put the All Whites' defence under siege from the start. New Zealand's likely three-man central defensive unit of Winston Reid, Tommy Smith and either Michael Boxall or Andrew Durante have skill, experience and athleticism, and these attributes will be put to the test. They will need to support their wingbacks - the team's area of weakness - who are certain to be targeted by the Peru, whose own wide attacking players are a strength of the 10th-ranked team in the world.

While it's tempting to say Chris Wood shapes as New Zealand's most important player in the match, it will be the second leg where he poses the greatest threat if the tie is alive in Lima.

Perhaps more important for New Zealand is the impact of Ryan Thomas, who will need to control the middle of the park. His intelligence, if not his presence, in midfield will be vital to the All Whites' task of keeping the ball off Peru to ease the pressure on the Kiwi defence.

This is not to say the All Whites will play negative football, hoping for a moment of set-piece magic a la Bahrain 2009 to score a goal. They will however be conservative and patient, knowing that they will create one or two scoring chances, and perhaps be presented with another during the game. It's up to the likes of Wood and Marco Rojas to make the most of those moments, and they certainly have the quality to capitalise.

There is no question Peru are the favourites for this match. It is reasonable to expect them to advance from this tie. However, we should be disappointed and a little surprised if they score more than one goal in Wellington, which would likely end the All Whites' hopes. This team is better than that, and they can lift for this game. I expect a cagey affair with few goals. 0-0 would not be a bad result for New Zealand in the overall context of the tie.

Andrew Gourdie is Newshub sports reporter/presenter and host of Sunday Sport on RadioLIVE.