180 minutes, two legs, one goal = the FIFA World Cup finals in Russia.
Labelled as the strongest All Whites squad since the 2010 FIFA World Cup, a group of 23 players descended on Wellington to face the 10th best country in the world, Peru.
Despite the two nations being ranked 111 places apart, our All Whites camp made it clear they believed this was a much-revered chance to take down their highly ranked opponents.
With only a five day training camp to prepare, it was always going to be tough for head coach Anthony Hudson in getting his team game ready – but game ready they were.
In front of a packed-out Westpac Stadium, the All Whites proved to a nation that they could indeed compete with the best in the world. Or did they?
Did we really play great football, or was it just Peru failing to show their class?
You’d have to think the latter is closer to the truth.
The All Whites looked unconvincing on attack and were unable to threaten the Peruvian goal. However, their South American counterparts found it just as difficult to break the deadlock – their only chance palmed away by shot-stopper Stefan Marinovic, who ensured his team did not fall behind.
New Zealand defended resolutely for the majority of the game and looked composed when put under pressure. Led by their inspirational and “colossal” skipper Winston Reid, they were able to come away from the game with a real belief that they could indeed book their place at Russia 2018.
The second leg though, was a whole different story…
A composed, confident and fearless All Whites squad arrived in Lima ready to lock horns with Los Incas once again. Peru’s 36 year absence from the FIFA World Cup finals had really taken its toll on their fans – something about the fire crackers, military plane fly overs, snake charm curses and endless traffic jams?
Yet only 8 seconds into the first half, and All Whites attacker Kosta Barbarouses was brought down in the box by Christian Ramos, but French referee Clement Turpin quickly waved away any penalty appeals.
Moments later Los Incas had a chance of their own through playmaker Luis Advincula, who hit the woodwork with an outrageous shot from 25 yards out. In a game that was very dissimilar to that Mexico match in 2013, the Peruvians were able to pile on early pressure and rattle the Kiwi defence.
This continued into the match with the All Whites sitting deep – opting to play a counter attacking, “park the bus” style of game. In fact, the match almost turned into an “attack versus defence” training session with Peru pushing forward before losing the ball – only to set themselves up for another wave.
Our All Whites were under the cosh.
Only moments later, the Peruvians were denied a penalty in the 25th minute after Winston Reid handled the ball in the 6-yard box, much to the disapproval of home supporters
Little did the decision matter however, as it would only take the Peruvians a few more minutes to break the deadlock.
Jefferson Farfan fired home a shot from 12 yards to put Peru 1-0 up in the 28th minute. Was the dream over before it had even begun?
The All Whites fought on, managing to keep Los Incas out until half time and even creating genuine goal scoring opportunities themselves – the best one falling to skipper Winston Reid, who headed the ball just over the bar on the stroke of the 45.
To be honest, the match could easily have been 7-0 by the half, had viewers not realised it was just the home broadcasters showing a replay of the Peruvian goal end on end.
The teams headed to the sheds for oranges, and onlookers were made to wait 15 minutes if they wanted to find out whether or not Anthony Hudson would use their star man on the bench: Chris Wood.
And use him they did: Wood on for sub-par midfielder Bill Tuiloma.
The 25-year-old had an immediate impact as the All Whites threatened Peru early in the second half, with things looking much more positive for our boys in white (or rather black for this outing). But the South Americans soon got back to their craft and continued to dominate New Zealand in every facet of the game. Christian Ramos was able to finish off a scrappy goal that gave the Peruvians a 2-0 advantage.
One final substitution saw “African Player of the Year” nominee Jeremy Brockie take to the turf and Andrew Durante exit. Defender off, striker on.
But after the full four minutes of additional time were played, referee Turpin looked at his watch for one last time before sending the whole of Peru into euphoria with three sharp whistles.
For New Zealand, this dream was over – but for Los Incas, it is just the beginning.
The two-legged Analysis
Over two legs, it is clear that Peru proved they were the team who deserve to be at a World Cup finals.
Questions will be asked about Hudson’s ability to lead New Zealand to a World Cup, and while veteran Andrew Durante expressed his interest in Hudson staying on directly after the second leg, the former Bahrain coach left his post last week.
The All Whites will feel disappointed that they could not progress, but not disheartened as the squad performed admirably against a world class team.
Slowly but surely, New Zealand is improving and in the words of Anthony Hudson “we’re getting there.”
But indeed we wait, four more years and then quest to qualify for Qatar 2022 begins.
This dream may be over, but there is always a new dream not too far away.