WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Burnley striker Chris Wood looms as a potential game breaker for New Zealand in Wednesday’s second leg of the World Cup playoff against Peru, as the All Whites bid for their third appearance in soccer’s global showpiece.
All Whites coach Anthony Hudson restricted Wood’s minutes in the 0-0 drawn first leg in Wellington on Saturday after he arrived nursing a hamstring injury from the English Premier League.
Hudson introduced Wood for the final 15 minutes and he immediately changed the home side’s attack.
The All Whites had been sending long balls forward to the diminutive duo of Marco Rojas and Kosta Barbarouses, a tactic that proved redundant.
However, the 1.91m (6-ft 3-in) Wood created doubt when he came on, making runs behind the defence and posing a more potent physical and aerial threat.
“We knew him coming off the bench would get the crowd going, which psychologically would add a bit more pressure on Peru,” Hudson said.
“We have been nursing him back since he arrived back from England. It was a day by day thing and we planned for him to have a few minutes.
“I think it all worked out really well and we have planned for him to start in Lima.
“We have planned it well, Woodsy has got a few more days (recovery) under his belt and we are confident he can start.”
Peru coach Ricardo Gareca recognised the influence Wood had on the All Whites attack and the pressure he put on his defence.
“They played very direct,” he told reporters after the game. “When their substitutes came in, especially Chris Wood, it was very tough for us.”
While Wood is likely to create issues up front in Lima, captain Winston Reid’s impact in defence was enormous in Wellington, even as he battled through what appeared to be a hamstring strain in the second half.
The West Ham United man ensured New Zealand’s defence held its shape and mopped up Peru’s attacking threats.
Reid’s leadership had helped boost the young side’s confidence, said Hudson, as they prepare for arguably the biggest game of their careers, with a place in next year’s finals in Russia on the line.
“The players do believe. We have to keep proving to ourselves that we can play here (at this level) and it’s about building on that belief,” the coach added.
“We are going to Lima to win. We believe we can go to Russia.”
Editing by Ian Ransom