WELLINGTON • New Zealand believe they can spring a massive surprise on Peru to reach next year's World Cup Finals, even if no one else shares their faith.
They host the world No. 10 side in Wellington today for the opening leg of a two-match intercontinental play-off.
Anthony Hudson's side are ranked No. 122 and the New Zealand coach knows they have been written off.
"(Peru) have had some unbelievable results in the last year against some big teams, the pressure really (is on them)," he said of Ricardo Gareca's team, who drew 0-0 with Argentina in Buenos Aires and defeated Uruguay 2-1 this year as they battled through a tough South American qualifying campaign to make the play-off.
"The whole footballing world expects Peru to win, we know that. Everyone in this (media) room expects Peru to win."
The Englishman said the New Zealanders - through to their third straight intercontinental play-off after romping through Oceania qualifying - have the skills to match Peru but cannot afford to be overawed by the occasion.
"What we need to do tomorrow is just completely believe in ourselves and not be afraid of the task," he said yesterday.
Their recent results against teams outside Oceania , however, have provided little indication of an impending shock. During the Confederations Cup campaign in June, New Zealand lost 0-2 to Russia and 1-2 to Mexico, before being crushed 0-4 by Portugal.
But the team have shown signs of improvement under the son of former Chelsea and Arsenal midfielder Alan Hudson since he succeeded Ricki Herbert in 2014.
They drew 1-1 with the US last year, while their recent 1-2 loss to Japan showed they can be competitive against higher-ranked sides.
Hudson has arguably his strongest team available for the play-off, with Burnley's Chris Wood to lead the attack and West Ham's Winston Reid marshalling the defence.
Fly 38,000km for 4 games in 2 weeks across 3 continents and time zones
New Zealand were always going to face an uphill task to qualify for Russia at Peru's expense.
But for seven Britain-based players, including Burnley's Chris Wood, they will literally need to go the extra mile to help the All Whites make a third World Cup appearance.
Some will play as many as four games, across three continents and time zones, over two weeks, reported the BBC. That means long-haul flights covering more than 38,000km.
Wood, for example, featured against Southampton last Saturday, and could be in line to face Swansea next Saturday. In between those Premier League games, the striker is expected to face Peru today and on Wednesday.
The other All Whites who play their club football in Britain are Winston Reid (West Ham), Max Crocombe (Salford City), Tommy Smith (Ipswich Town), Clayton Lewis (Scunthorpe United), Rory Fallon (Dorchester United), and Monty Patterson (Ipswich Town).
Gareca, in contrast, will be missing skipper Paolo Guerrero for the tie that concludes in Lima on Wednesday. Peru's top goalscorer, with 32 goals in 83 appearances, tested positive for a stimulant after a match on Oct 5 and was given a preliminary 30-day suspension.
But Gareca is confident Peru will cope without their talisman to reach their fifth Finals and first 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," Gareca said yesterday.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
NEW ZEALAND V PERU
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