WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Oceania champion New Zealand held Peru to a 0-0 draw Saturday in the first leg of their intercontinental World Cup playoff that will decide the final qualifier for Russia next year.
The teams will head to Lima next week for the second leg with the South Americans hoping to return to the World Cup for the first time in 36 years and New Zealand looking to make just its third appearance at the finals.
Peru, which finished fifth in the South American qualifying tournament and is currently ranked 10th in the world, was heavily favored to beat New Zealand, but struggled in the absence of star striker and captain, Paolo Guerrero, who was suspended after failing a doping test.
New Zealand, ranked 122nd in the world, also suffered a setback before kickoff when key striker Chris Wood was forced out of the starting lineup because of a lingering hamstring injury, but steadily grew in confidence as the match progressed and brought on the Burnley forward as a second half substitute as they pressed for a late goal.
Peru head coach Ricardo Gareca said he believed his side deserved to win the match and reassured the team's supporters they were determined to win at home and end their long World Cup drought.
"We have many fans and everyone is behind the team and I want to tell them that we have a good chance to qualify but it won't be easy," he said.
"Don't worry about this result because the team will still give 100 percent in its attempt to qualify."
Peru dominated the early exchanges against a nervous New Zealand team, retaining possession for long periods and playing at pace and with precision, but was thwarted by the home team's staunch defense, led by the captain Winston Reid.
Peru came close to scoring in the seventh minute after a mix-up by the New Zealand defense saw a deflection trickle back toward the net before goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic cleared it off the line just in time.
Marinovic also pulled off two notable saves in the second half, palming a header from Aldo Corzo over the bar in the 63rd minute and stopping a low shot from Yordy Reina a minute later.
But the All Whites also created some chances of their own to put the visitors under pressure and New Zealand manager Anthony Hudson said it was significant that his team did not give up an away goal, although he stressed "the mindset is we've achieved nothing."
"The key for us, and we said this at the beginning, it's not a 90 minute match, it's 180 minutes," he said.
"We have to still be in the game in the last 15 minutes over in Lima. This suits us. We're accustomed to that sort of adversity."
Kosta Barbarouses, left alone up front in the initial absence of Wood, flashed across goal in the 33rd minute after getting in behind the Peru defense.
Wood, who was introduced after 73 minutes, had a sniff of a chance in the 83rd minute and Barbarouses shot just wide seconds later.
Ryan Thomas then blasted a powerful shot past the post in the 85th minute with the goalkeeper off his line, before Pedro Aquino had one of Peru's best chances in the 88th minute but missed the target after Markinovic had been knocked down.
Peru has qualified for the World Cup on four previous occasions, reaching the quarterfinals in 1970, but has not made it back to the sport's marquee tournament since 1982.
They edged out Chile on goal difference to finish fifth in the South American qualifiers and book a place in the intercontinental playoffs against the champions of Oceania, the only regional confederation not guaranteed direct entry.
New Zealand has qualified for the World Cup finals just twice before, in 1982 and 2010, but captain Reid said they were not overawed by the challenge.
"We've been close to getting a result before against the so-called bigger teams and today, for me, was about keeping a clean sheet at the back and giving ourselves an opportunity in the second leg," Reid said.
"We've certainly done that. The first 10 minutes was a bit cagey and it was just about settling the nerves down. The second half was a lot better, we produced some good chances.
"They're a quality side but we'll go to the second leg full of confidence. It's all about resting up now."