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How New Zealand can upset Peru in 2018 World Cup playoff

Jason Dasey and PJ Roberts preview the upcoming World Cup qualifier between New Zealand and Peru.
New Zealand's Chris Wood is confident that the side can beat the likes of Argentina and Chile if they come up against them in the 2018 World Cup play-offs.

Ricki Herbert coached New Zealand at the 2010 World Cup, was a player at the 1982 World Cup, and managed Wellington in the A-League between 2007-13.

Oceania champions New Zealand will face a mammoth task when they take on the world's No. 10 ranked team, Peru, in a playoff over two legs, for a place at Russia 2018.

The Peruvians, who came fifth in South American qualifying, are aiming for their first World Cup finals' appearance since 1982, the same year that New Zealand qualified for the first time.

Ahead of Saturday's first leg in Wellington, here are five ways the All Whites can try to emulate my 2010 team by winning an interconfederation playoff.

New ZealandNew Zealand
PeruPeru
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1. Make home advantage count

At the same stage in 2009, we had the advantage of playing the second leg of our playoff against Asian representatives Bahrain in Wellington. That meant that we could bring home a 0-0 draw in Riffa before Rory Fallon's goal made the difference in a 1-0 victory a month later.

This time, the All Whites have the disadvantage of playing away in the second game, which means that they have to get things right in Wellington on Saturday. Simply put, New Zealand have to do everything they can to win the first leg and not concede an away goal.

When you play at home, you have to try and control the game as much as possible for those 90 minutes. Peru are likely to come with a cagey approach, so the All Whites must be positive, without being reckless, and take advantage of any uncertainty.

Even stepping onto the plane to Lima with a 0-0 scoreline would be satisfactory and give the squad a sense that making it to the World Cup finals for only the third time is a realistic target.

2. Get selection and tactics right

At June's Confederations Cup in Russia, New Zealand suffered defeat in all three matches, but put together some commendable performances. They lost their last game 4-0 to Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal but previously they led Mexico before losing 2-1 and made things uncomfortable for the host nation, despite a 2-0 defeat in the opener.

But the high-pressing tactics used there and in some of the qualifiers may not be the best approach against Peru. Coach Anthony Hudson needs to be careful not to be exposed by the Peruvians' pace, especially if they want to stay in the tie, ahead of the second leg in Lima.

Playing a back three, with two wing-backs who can make it a back five when defending, is a sound approach. In front of them, I would have three in midfield and two up front, with Burnley's Chris Wood at the pointy end and Netherlands-based Ryan Thomas just behind him.

New Zealand need to be compact and spend as much time on the ball as possible. And they need to be on the front foot from the start.

West Ham's Winston Reid, left, has recovered from a calf injury and will captain New Zealand vs. Peru.

3. Hurt Peru with set pieces

When we won the playoff against Bahrain eight years ago, the decisive goal from Rory Fallon came from a Leo Bertos free kick in 45th minute. Set pieces have always been one of the strengths of New Zealand football, and they will again need to optimise this part of the game to give themselves a chance against Peru.

The likes of Wood and West Ham United's Winston Reid are as good as anyone in dead-ball situations, with quality deliveries from former Celtic junior Michael McGlinchey. He plays his club football for Wellington Phoenix so will be right at home at Westpac Stadium for the first leg. He'll look to test the Peruvians with pinpoint corners, and attacking free kicks.

Let's not make the mistake of dismissing set pieces in the name of attractive football because using a direct approach at times will take Peru out of their comfort zone. Remember, around 30 percent of all goals at international level come from dead-ball situations.

4. Injection of quality off the bench

At the 2010 World Cup, everyone remembers New Zealand's 1-1 draw with Italy in Nelspruit, and we would finish above the defending champions in Group F. But what isn't so clear in the memory of neutrals is the way that Chris Wood almost gave us a shock victory.

Wood came on for Fallon just after the hour. With about 10 minutes to go, he cut inside and whistled a shot just past the post, with the scores level at 1-1.

Dorchester Town's Fallon is now 35 years old, but can still make an impact off the bench. My former Wellington Phoenix player Marco Rojas -- the man they call "The Kiwi Messi", who is at Heerenveen in the Eredivisie -- is another who can make a difference, along with South Africa-based Jeremy Brockie.

You've got to have that quality of player in reserve for the first leg, especially with New Zealand likely to be chasing that crucial goal late in the game.

Chris Wood
Burnley's Chris Wood is the best option for New Zealand to play up top against Peru.

5. Exploit the pressure on Peru

The expectations on Peru are huge, especially with 112 places separating the two nations in the FIFA rankings. The visitors are talented and accomplished, but they're also a young squad, carrying the burden of trying to take their nation to their first World Cup in 36 years.

New Zealand's advantage is that they have a core of players who appeared at the 2010 World Cup. The likes of Ryan Nelsen and Simon Elliott may have retired, but others like Reid, McGlinchey and Wood are all better than they were eight years ago, while veteran Fallon and Shane Smeltz are also aiming for a second World Cup appearance. Add to them the likes of Rojas, Thomas, and Melbourne Victory's Kosta Barbarouses, and the All Whites have a more than competent squad.

Big matches are often won by teams who hold their nerve the best at critical times. If New Zealand can start on the front foot, anything is possible, especially if it's a wild, wet and windy day at the stadium that used to be known as the Cake Tin.

During my Wellington Phoenix days, I'll never forget how one of our long balls forward was blown so far back that it confounded the opposing goalkeeper, presenting our striker with the simplest of goals. That kind of unexpected occurrence at windy Wellington on Saturday could give the home side the sense of hope needed before they try to climb a mountain in Lima four days later.

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