Head to head: Will the All Whites beat the fifth-best South American team?

Chris Wood could hold the key to New Zealand's chances of making the World Cup.
PHOTOSPORT

Chris Wood could hold the key to New Zealand's chances of making the World Cup.

With New Zealand's win over the Solomon Islands in Oceania World Cup qualifying, they have set up a November playoff with the fifth-placed team from South America for a spot at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Our writers debate if they stand any chance at all against what could be one of the powerhouses of world football. 

YES - Anything is possible in football - LIAM HYSLOP

Peru, welcome to Wellington.

Chris Wood congratulates Ryan Thomas on his goal against the Solomon Islands.
PHOTOSPORT

Chris Wood congratulates Ryan Thomas on his goal against the Solomon Islands.

That's the team the All Whites can beat in the intercontinental playoff.

Peru have ridden a wave of good form in recent times, winning their last three games on the trot, including a 2-1 triumph away to Ecuador to move into fourth on the South American World Cup qualifying ladder.

That makes them tough opposition, particularly at home in Lima.

Marco Rojas celebrates his goal against Mexico with team-mate Themi Tzimopoulos last October.
PHOTOSPORT

Marco Rojas celebrates his goal against Mexico with team-mate Themi Tzimopoulos last October.

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But what they do offer is relative inexperience in high-pressure games. The last time they qualified for the World Cup was in 1982 - even the All Whites have an appearance since then. They also went out at the quarterfinal stage of last year's Copa America, going down on penalties to Colombia after finishing top of their group (ahead of both Ecuador and Brazil).

If New Zealand hold an advantage going into the second leg, then the pressure on them from their home crowd could prove too much.

The All Whites were left soundly beaten by Mexico in 2013.
STUFF

The All Whites were left soundly beaten by Mexico in 2013.

I'm a realist though, I know how hard this will be for the All Whites, even against Peru.

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It would only get harder against the likes of Argentina, Chile or Uruguay, with their international stars who hold a wealth of big-game experience.

That's not to say those teams are unbeatable though. Argentina have struggled mightily throughout qualifying. They felt the pressure of the home crowd when drawing with Venezuela, a team which has won just once in 16 qualifying games.

Argentina's Lionel Messi reacts after his side concedes a goal against Venezuela.
MARCOS BRINDICCI/REUTERS

Argentina's Lionel Messi reacts after his side concedes a goal against Venezuela.

After recent games in which Luxembourg held France to a 0-0 draw in European qualifying and war-torn Syria made it through to a playoff with Australia in Asian qualifying, it seems like a good enough time as any to start dreaming of an upset.

The All Whites are also a much better team than they were when getting thrashed 9-3 by Mexico in this playoff in 2013. So long as they have Chris Wood, Winston Reid and Ryan Thomas all available, then they stand a chance of nabbing a result at home and holding on for dear life in the second leg.

Wood has developed into a top-level striker and is scoring in the English Premier League for Burnley.

Reid is such a key player. He's a world-class defender, the captain and lifts players around him. The All Whites have sorely missed him in recent times, but if fit, he gives this team a massive boost.

I won't go out and say they will make the World Cup, but with a full-strength team I think they are capable of pushing any team they come up against.

NO - Sorry lads, but you've got no chance - ANDREW VOERMAN

Chile's Alexis Sanchez could be winging his way to New Zealand if his side finish fifth.
RODRIGO GARRIDO/REUTERS

Chile's Alexis Sanchez could be winging his way to New Zealand if his side finish fifth.

As things stand, the All Whites won't be going to next year's World Cup.

That's not to belittle the players, who believe firmly that they can get there, and who will give their all in November as they try to, but that's how it looks from the sideline, and it's not really their fault.

It's mostly bad luck, that when the draw was made in July 2015, Oceania got stuck with the fifth-best team from South America (Conmebol), not the fifth-best team from Asia, or the fourth-best team from North and Central America (Concacaf) .

Peru's Paolo Guerrero and his team-mates react after picking up another win on Wednesday.
DANIEL TAPIA/REUTERS

Peru's Paolo Guerrero and his team-mates react after picking up another win on Wednesday.

If the 32 countries at the World Cup were decided solely by Fifa's rankings, the fifth-best team from Conmebol would make it (Peru, 15th); but the fifth-best from Asia (Saudi Arabia, 59th) and the fourth-best from Concacaf (Haiti, 55th) wouldn't be close, and that could be all the difference.

In the past four cycles, Uruguay finished fifth in Conmebol and had to play off, but still made the 2002, 2010, and 2014 events. When they missed out in 2006, it was to Australia's golden generation, on penalties.

The current crop of All Whites are not (yet) a golden generation, and that's what it would take to upset Peru, or Chile, or Argentina, the three most likely opponents. Perhaps they will reveal themselves to be one over the next nine weeks, but that would be one hell of a final act twist.

Watching some of the recent international action, such as Australia's matches against Japan and Thailand, or Argentina's against Uruguay and Venezuela, and comparing them to the All Whites at the Confederations Cup in June, the only possible conclusion was that the Kiwis are a long way off.

The case for them improving consists of three things - that they weren't actually that far away, that they weren't as fit as they could be, and that they were missing Winston Reid.

The return of Reid might make the biggest difference. His presence would give the entire defence a lift, and he would cover for his partners and make their faults less obvious.

As for fitness, well, it is true that players are fresher in November than in June. But will that suddenly help them press as a cohesive unit? It's not as if they were run off their feet in Russia.

Finally, there's the idea that the All Whites are close already, driven by the coach's fanciful belief, restated just last week, that they were "the more dominant team" when they lost 2-1 to Mexico in June.

In the first half, the All Whites had six shots to Mexico's five, and three on target to their one, and deserved to lead 1-0. But in the second half, they had four to Mexico's 17, and one on target to their nine.

They were dominated far more than they were dominant, and if that is the performance that is meant to give the country hope, then it is only fair to say that there is none.

 - Stuff

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