WELLINGTON – Peru failed to break down a resolute New Zealand defence in a 0-0 draw in Wellington Saturday to leave their dream of ending a 36-year absence from the World Cup finals hanging by a thread.
“Los Incas” failed to score a coveted away goal despite outplaying New Zealand in the opening match of their two-legged World Cup qualifier, with the winner claiming a spot at next year’s finals in Russia.
Peru, ranked 10th in the world to New Zealand’s 122, were the better team, but lacked a cutting edge in the absence of goal-scoring captain Paolo Guerrero, who is currently suspended over an “abnormal result” from a drugs test.
New Zealand worked tirelessly in defence and they rode their luck at times, but grew in confidence as the game progressed and will be delighted to head into the second leg in Lima on Wednesday on even terms.
New Zealand were dealt a blow before kick-off when striker Chris Wood was ruled out of the starting line-up with a hamstring injury.
SuperSport United striker Jeremy Brockie, though, was an unused substitute.
They showed early nerves, almost conceding a goal in the sixth minute with some indecisive defending that forced keeper Stefan Marinovic to race back and palm the ball off the line.
The visitors dominated in midfield, allowing Andre Carillo to pepper the New Zealand box with crosses searching in vain a finish from striker Jefferson Farfan.
It was 20 minutes before the first meaningful New Zealand attack, when Ryan Thomas won a corner only to send the ball over the head of a leaping Tommy Smith.
There were chances at either end for New Zealand’s Kosta Barbarouses and Christian Cueva of Peru, but both shot wide without bothering the keeper.
Peru continued to build patiently, although Farfan appeared to struggle as the target man in Guerrero’s absence.
He failed to capitalise as more New Zealand errors led to a goalmouth scramble 10 minutes before the break.
The hosts looked sharper after the break as midfielder Marco Rojas set off on some enterprising runs.
Peru wrested back possession and forced Marinovic into two saves in two minutes, first instinctively stopping Aldo Corzo’s short range header then calmly dealing with Edison Flores’ shot from the edge of the box.
New Zealand showed late attacking intent, bringing on Wood in the 72nd minute, and a free kick from the big striker immediately forced a diving save from Peru keeper Perdro Gallese.
Wood’s presence up front created space in Peru’s defence, but Barbarouses and Thomas both squandered gilt-edged opportunities to take the lead.
Flores sent a shot over the bar at the other end, but New Zealand were able to hold on and will hope to muster a similar defensive effort in Lima.
The return leg on November 15 at the Estadio Nacional in Lima.
Peru have qualified for the finals four times – 1930, 1970, 1978 and 1982 – making the quarter-finals in 1970.
New Zealand have made two finals appearances – 1982 and 2010 – exiting the latter campaign undefeated after three draws in the group stages.