WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand are quietly confident they can produce something of a boilover in their World Cup playoff against Peru on Saturday with regular captain Winston Reid fit and back in the side, according to defender Tommy Smith.
The Oceania champions host the South Americans in the first leg of their playoff for next year’s finals in Russia in Wellington, with the second leg in Lima on Nov. 16.
Peru battled through one of the toughest South American qualifying campaigns to make the playoff and are ranked 10th in the world, while Anthony Hudson’s side are languishing in 122nd.
The All Whites, however, have arguably their strongest side available, with West Ham United defender Reid and Burnley striker Chris Wood both arriving in New Zealand free of injury concerns they picked up in the Premier League.
”It’s great to have a full-strength squad, which we haven’t had for a long time,“ Smith told reporters in Wellington on Wednesday. ”There’s no two ways about it - we’ve got more than enough to cause them problems.
“We’re quietly confident that we can go and cause an upset.”
The presence of their captain Reid has provided a confidence boost for the team, the central defender battling a raft of injuries that have reduced his appearances for the national side in the last seven years.
Reid was considered crucial for the team’s chances to qualify for Brazil in 2014 but hurt his ankle at training for West Ham and missed the two-legged tie against Mexico, who went on to win 9-3 on aggregate.
The run of injuries has meant Reid has played just 22 internationals for New Zealand since his 2010 debut and missed the final leg of Oceania qualifying and the Confederations Cup in Russia in June.
He returned for the 2-1 loss to Japan in Nagoya last month and Smith said there would be no issues with Reid slotting back into the defensive line, while fellow defender Michael Boxall said just having him back in the squad lifted their performance.
“Winston has a huge impact on the group,” Boxall told the New Zealand Herald.
“Just having him in camp, being part of the team, it’s like everyone’s levels go up. It’s not just what he brings on the field, but also off it.”
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty