Peru, NZ face off for finals spot

- Reuters, WELLINGTON

Nov 11, 2017-World Cup finals fever enveloped New Zealand’s capital on Friday as hundreds of noisy Peru fans greeted their team at the airport ahead of their intercontinental playoff with the All Whites on Saturday.

The South Americans had been training in Auckland all week and delayed their arrival in Wellington until Friday, with kickoff for the first leg of the tie at Wellington Regional Stadium 0315 GMT on Saturday. Greeted by chants of “Pe-ru! Pe-ru!”, their welcome in Wellington mirrored that of when they touched down in New Zealand’s largest city earlier this week with national-strip clad fans dancing, banging drums and blowing whistles as the team ran the gauntlet to a waiting bus.

A small presence of police officers was needed to clear a path for the team and their management staff, who are under immense pressure to take the side to their first World Cup finals since 1982. “We would like to tell the 30 million expectant Peruvians back home and the thousands who have welcomed us at the airports or who have come to watch the match, we are ready,” manager Ricardo Gareca said on Friday. 

Peru’s fans, however, were not the only ones to invade Wellington, with New Zealand’s most passionate supporters making lightning visits home from as far afield as Britain. New Zealand Football estimated that more than 40 percent of tickets for the expected 38,000 sellout had been purchased by fans from outside of the greater Wellington region. 

Peru are without captain Paolo Guerrero, who tested positive for a banned stimulant after a match on October 5 and given a preliminary 30-day suspension. The world’s 10th-ranked side are expected to win the two-legged tie to advance to Russia, however, the All Whites, who reached their third successive intercontinental playoff, exuded confidence on Friday, with coach Anthony Hudson having arguably his strongest possible side available for the first time.

“I’m quite calm,” Hudson said on Friday of the fact he is able to call on West Ham United’s Winston Reid to anchor the defence and Burnley’s Chris Wood to lead the attack. “It has been a really good week of preparation.” 

Captain Reid, who has missed numerous All Whites games through injury over the last three years, has boosted the side with fellow defender Michael Boxall stating earlier this week he brings a calm confidence to the entire squad.

Published: 11-11-2017 08:09

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