June 13 – This time, only one of them can make it. Australia and Peru, who both qualified for the last World Cup four years ago, clash later today in their inter-continental playoff in a bid to secure the penultimate berth at this year’s finals in Qatar.
The Ahmed bin Ali Stadium at Al Rayyan, one of the venues for the finals in November and December, will host the all-important showdown – ironically in precisely the kind of severe heat that uniquely shifted the tournament from summer to winter.
Australia came through a tense playoff against the United Arab Emirates at the same venue on Monday to clinch fifth place in the Asian qualifiers. That earned them the right to go up against Peru, who came fifth in South American qualifying.
“Fight, scratch and do whatever you have got to do to win the game, the Aussie DNA. However we win it, who cares? Just win it,” said Australian coach Graham Arnold whose side go into the game as firm underdogs. “It’s one game now. It’s 90 minutes.”
Peru finished above both Colombia and Chile in qualifying, exceeding all expectations under their Argentine coach Ricardo Gareca. “We’re all ready for this,” said Gareca who was in charge at the 2018 World Cup when Peru beat Australia 2-0 in the final round of group games after both were already eliminated.
Such is the anticipation back home that today has been declared a public holiday in Peru at what will be a lunchtime kickoff. But despite an air-conditioned stadium, Nobby Solano, Peru’s assistant coach, isn’t happy.
“We’ve been training in Spain because it’s just too hot to train in Qatar during the day,” he said. “We’re being asked to play in the same conditions that it was decided that the World Cup wouldn’t be possible to be played in.
“For a game of this size, with so much at stake, I’m not sure that’s really good for either us or Australia.”
The same will apply on Tuesday at the final World Cup qualifying fixture between New Zealand and Costa Rica in Doha that will complete the line-up for the tournament later this year.
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