By Mark Gleeson
DOHA (Reuters) – The last place at this year’s World Cup will be decided on Tuesday in Doha when Costa Rica face New Zealand in their intercontinental playoff.
The match at the Ahmed bin Ali Stadium pits the fourth- placed finishers in the CONCACAF qualifying group against the top team in the Oceania confederation and the winners will play in Group E at the finals in Qatar along with Germany, Japan and Spain.
Costa Rica, looking to qualify for a third successive World Cup, reached the quarter-finals in Brazil eight years ago and having had substantially more competitive matches over the last four years will be favorites to advance.
Since the last World Cup, they have played 30 competitive games compared to five for New Zealand which have all been against low-ranked Pacific island nations.
“Costa Rica have played a lot together and have a lot of caps,” said New Zealand coach Danny Hay, whose side played Peru and Oman in warm-up matches over the last week.
“We don’t really get enough opportunity to test ourselves against top quality opposition.”
Hay admitted the behind closed doors draw with Oman on Friday was not the greatest performance by his team.
“But that said, I think everybody’s got half an eye, if not a full eye, if not two eyes on Costa Rica,” he added.
Costa Rica defender Francisco Calvo warned his side will need to be wary of complacency.
“We have to be focused for the 90 minutes, because they shoot from wherever they can. We’ll have to defend to the death and keep Chris Wood under control, “he told reporters in Doha.
Newcastle United striker Wood is the Kiwis’ key attacker.
“A good team builds on defensive strength, and usually the champion teams are the ones that concede the fewest goals. If we keep a clean sheet, I’m convinced that we’ll score a goal and qualify for the World Cup, ”added Calvo.
New Zealand, who competed at the 1982 and 2010 World Cups and lost out in the playoffs for the last two tournaments, have concerns over the fitness of captain Winston Reid but Hay said he expected the former West Ham United central defender to play.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)