Verdict: Away win
Best Odds: 4/5
Oceania champions New Zealand will need to show serious improvement if they want to keep this tie alive ahead of the return leg in Peru, although their highest ever football crowd might be able to help. La Blanquirroja did well to secure a play-off berth after a strong finish to their qualifying campaign and they are now the favourites to reach Russia.
Even with Australia moving to the Asian Zone of World Cup qualifiers, New Zealand have only once made it to the tournament finals after their first appearance in 1982. All Whites did well to record three draws in the group stage at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, but they have been pretty disappointing of late. While failing to largely dominate even the weak Oceanic opposition, New Zealand couldn’t take a single point from three 2017 Confederations Cup matches, losing to Russia, Mexico and Portugal. They have since managed to win the Oceanic qualifying play-off thanks to an 8-3 aggregate win over Solomon Islands, but were then beaten by Japan in the final warm-up match for the Intercontinental play-off against Peru. There have been some good news for head coach Anthony Hudson as several important players overcame injuries to make the squad, but, even so, New Zealand face a tough task against in-form Blanquirroja. It’s now been five years since All Whites faces South American opposition, suffering a 2-0 friendly defeat to Paraguay, and we don’t think they will fare much better against Peru.
Captain Winston Reid and key forward Chris Wood have recovered from injury, while Tommy Smith is available for selection as well.
Experienced forward Rory Fallon is back after a 17-month absence, while 18-year-old full-back Dane Ingham keeps his place.
Peru have come a long way from being one of South America’s weakest sides to genuine contenders for places at major tournaments. The team have shown tremendous progress under Ricardo Garecca, finishing third at the 2015 Copa America and reaching the quarter-finals at the Copa America Centenario, while La Blanquirroja now have a chance to make it to the first World Cup finals since 1982. Peru didn’t have such a good start to the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign, but they improved a great deal later on, finishing the campaign six matches unbeaten and one point behind automatic berth. Having largely impressed in 2017, La Blanquirroja seem well prepared for the all-important double header against New Zealand, despite the fact that star striker Paulo Guerrero is unavailable for selection after a failed doping test. Peru definitely have the quality to compensate for the loss of their key man, and having seriously improved their performances on the road, we can definitely see them winning in Wellington.
Winger Jefferson Farfan is expected to fill in for Paulo Guerrero at centre forward, flanked by Andre Carrillo and Christian Cueva.
Key Factors to Consider
- The two teams have never met before
- New Zealand lost 6 of last 8 matches on all fronts
- Peru are unbeaten in last eight fixtures (W5 D3)
- La Blanquirroja won three of last six qualifiers on the road (D2 L1)
- Peru top scorer Paulo Guerrero missing through suspension
New Zealand have been largely disappointing when facing stronger sides over the last few years and we don’t think they can match in-form Peru. La Blanquirroja have got plenty of attacking potential even with Guerrero out of the picture and we are backing them to make an important step towards Russia.
Verdict: Away win
Best Odds: 4/5
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