16 Nov 2017

All Whites: steady nerves could clinch it

12:01 pm on 16 November 2017

Opinion - I'm emotionally exhausted. I knew Lima would be crazy and magnificent, but the excitement and the tension is beyond what I ever imagined.

Peruvian football fans celebrate as they watch their team's 2018 World Cup football qualifier match against New Zeland on a big screen at a park in Lima, on November 10, 2017.

Peruvian football fans in Lima during the first match against New Zealand in Wellington. Photo: AFP

In the past two days I've seen local shamans cursing the All Whites and placing blessings on the Peruvian players outside the Estadio Nacional.

I've seen crazed fans chasing the Peruvian team bus down the street just to get a glimpse of their heroes.

And I've seen the All Whites have to put up with all sorts of logistical problems, such as their bus getting stuck on the entrance to the stadium.

But whatever it is, the All Whites are completely unfazed by what's going on around them. Sure, they enjoy the atmosphere that comes with such a high stakes match in a football-mad country, but they remain largely in their bubble that is the plush Marriot hotel in Miraflores.

There was an eerie silence around the 50,000-seater Estadio Nacional for their captain's run, just the flicker of cameras as the All Whites went through their final preparation.

It will be another story today.

Those lucky enough to have a ticket to the match will cram the stadium hours before kickoff, and those who don't will park themselves wherever they can see a TV screen.

Peru will be cheered and chased all the way from their hotel in San Isidro to the ground. They already know how important a win is to the Peruvian people, but if they don't, they'll see it on the bus trip to the match.

The All Whites, on the other hand, will face a slow journey to the stadium as fans line the streets shouting and doing whatever possible to intimidate the Kiwis.

Some players will no doubt have music on, completely oblivious to what's going on outside their bus, some will use the mania to fire them up for likely one of the biggest matches of their careers.

When they enter the stadium they will be greeted by a deafening cacophony of drums, chants, whistles and horns.

Somewhere in the stadium, around 30 die-hard All Whites fans who've made the trip to Lima will sing and chant themselves.

As for the match, the first key for the All Whites will be coming to grips with the stadium and the sound. Then it'll be about coming to grips with an expected Peruvian onslaught of attack.

All Whites Marco Rojas dribbles the ball.

All Whites Marco Rojas dribbles the ball in the first match against Peru in Wellington. Photo: PhotoSport

The 10th ranked team were stunned to come away from Wellington with a 0-0 draw and they will be determined to stamp their mark on the match early in Lima.

If the All Whites can hold firm through that opening period then their chances of success grow by the second.

The crowd will begin to get anxious, Peru will begin to get anxious, and that may be the All Whites' best chance to pounce and grab the vital away goal that would completely change the dynamic of the match.

If the All Whites score once, Peru must win the match to qualify. If it finishes 1-1, the All Whites are on the plane to Russia.

It's a big advantage, and it gives the All Whites so much confidence. They genuinely believe they can get the job done in Lima, and why shouldn't they?

If they pull this off it'll go down as one of the great New Zealand sporting achievements.

* Simon Hampton is a freelance sports reporter based in Peru

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