The odds are stacked against New Zealand as it prepares to take on Costa Rica in the final inter-confederation FIFA World Cup playoff final at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium here on Tuesday.
New Zealand coach Danny Hay was content with the underdog tag ahead of the game. “Undoubtedly, Costa Rica [will feel the most pressure]. The world's media has written us off, that we have no chance. They are ranked 31, while we are 101. I will be sleeping well, not sure their coach will be though (laughs) because there is a huge amount of pressure on them,” said Hay.
Hay, who expects a physical and cagey affair, will be banking on Newcastle United striker Chris Wood to step up and deliver in another big game to take the All Whites into the finals for the first time since 2010.
Costa Rica has its own big-game players and plenty of experience in the ranks with goalkeeper Keylor Navas, forward Joel Campbell and midfielder Celso Borges.
New Zealand, which is part of the OFC confederation, is coming off a 0-1 defeat to Peru in Spain earlier this month, where the South Americans found it hard to find spaces to attack. It also played out a goalless draw to Oman in Al-Rayyan. An under-strength Costa Rica lost to Panama before beating lowly Martinique in the CONCACAF Nations League.
Coach Luis Fernando Suárez warned of excessive optimism from people back home and identified NZ’s ‘simple, direct football’ strength as a threat to his side.
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“We have our fate on the ground. We need to be very serious and concentrate for 90 minutes,” said Suárez. ”They will build-up play from the goalkeeper and try to play well from the inside and try to open up the pitch. They are strong with high balls, crosses and set pieces. And we really need to bare them (set pieces) in mind. We need to be careful and play our football, keep possession and find spaces behind the opponent.”
The winner will join Spain, Germany and Japan in Group E.
(The writer is in Qatar at the invitation of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy)
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