Peru’s beloved blanquirroja will look to keep its World Cup hopes alive this Saturday, facing New Zealand in Wellington for the first leg of a two-match playoff that determines which of the squads will represent their nations in Russia 2018.
Though billed by many as a David and Goliath-type matchup – the Peruvian squad, ranked at No. 10 in the world by FIFA, sits a whopping 112 spots higher than New Zealand’s – a number of factors confound the underdog storyline.
Peru has an extremely talented squad boasting an impressive resume, but the young team carries on its shoulders the pressure of gifting their country its first World Cup spot in 36 years. What is more, that weight will be carried without the help of Peru’s captain and all-time leading scorer, Paolo Guerrero, suspended for 30 days after a positive result for cocaine in a doping test.
Meanwhile, New Zealand’s captain, Winston Reid, as well as fellow Premier League star Chris Wood, have returned healthy to a lineup that already has World Cup playoff game experience: many members represented New Zealand in its playoff matches against Bahrain in 2009 and Mexico in 2013.
For both teams, Saturday is crucial to keeping their country’s dream alive. The All Whites must capitalize on home advantage in this first match, as they are sure to a face a hostile environment during the second leg. For Peru, a victory in Wellington might demoralize their opponent and set up a battle in Lima that will prove too uphill for New Zealand.
The latter scenario is exactly what the thousands of Peruvians who filled the streets Monday to give their team a heroes’ send-off are hoping for. This is the preferred scenario for the boisterous hundreds of Peruvians who showed up to greet their team in Auckland on Monday, as well as by the 687,196 Peruvians who, according to Depor, participated in a raffle for tickets to the match in Lima on November 15.
Clearly, Peru will be holding its collective breath on Saturday. For now, many Peruvians are voicing outrage that a mere 20,000 tickets were made available to raffle off for that November 15 match, while 30,000 out of Lima’s Estadio Nacional’s 50,000 seats were reserved for sponsors, according to Remezcla.com. Peruvian hinchas are also talking about their team captain´s suspension, with many calling it unjust.
Saturday’s match will take place in Westpac Stadium, most likely before a sold-out crowd of 38,000 soccer fans.