Literally and figuratively, Chris Wood will need his wingman, Marco Rojas tomorrow (and gee, how he has been the absolutely forgotten man in all the build-up) to be turning on all his wizardry and dinking those inviting little chips into the six-yard box for big Woody to hopefully latch on to and power past Gallese in the Peruvian goal.
Rojas is one in a million on the ball when the mood takes him. Some of the dribbling and feints when he was in hot form for the Melbourne Victory in the past few years in the A-League almost need to be seen in super slow motion to be believed. And the little chip to set up Wood’s goal in the Japanese friendly in Nagoya last month was a thing of beauty. To physically get the ball across with that trajectory and weight in relation to how the ball was practically stuck under his feet at the time and with the pace he was moving at, was unique and something not many around the world, let alone in our little backwater, would be able to do. To have that a precise touch is certainly a rare gift.
Naturally our chances go down from slim to around absolute zero if Wood gets broke, but I would argue that even more crucial than Chris is our defence. As alluded to before, we were marginal to a disorganised rabble against Japan and we were fortunate that their finishing was just as impotent. Winston Reid got quite found out in that match (was he bothered by an injury?) and again in an EPL match soon after. Those were two very much lumbering performances. We had all better hope for a big improvement tomorrow.
The crowd should be worth a goal to us; that factor is huge. I mean I know I said that the Andes had more chance of melting overnight than us winning the whole tie, but hope springs eternal, as the old chestnut goes.
Little is known by almost anyone at all here (hand up) about the Peruvian team, except perhaps by people like Michael Burgess (who also speaks fluent Spanish), and is covering the game for NZME. Even soccer nuts like Devlin would be struggling, I’d imagine.
Watch for Renato Tapia to go well in the midfield. He is one of he best players in the ‘Eredivisie’-the top Dutch League. He plays for Ajax’s traditional rivals Feyenoord, and is very much adored by those in Rotterdam. (Including by members of my mother’s family who live there, I’m sure).
If the All Whites do somehow manage to beat Peru over two legs home and away and get to Russia 2018, it would possibly even outdo 1982, and just about the greatest game in New Zealand’s sports history- the 2-1 defeat of China in the sweltering conditions of Singapore, to qualify for Espana ‘82 after a mammoth fifteen match qualifying odyssey.
A campaign that included an almost certainly ‘bent’ referee in the Kuwait match in Auckland (33 freekicks to 10, including two laughable, crooked penalty awards).
This won’t transpire tomorrow, although if there is a penalty awarded to NZ, I hope to goodness Wood takes it, not Rojas. He may have twinkling feet, but he is no deadly penalty taker.
-Paul M at: firstname.lastname@example.org