Herald football writer Michael Burgess highlights the three key players from each side ahead of the All Whites v Peru World Cup qualifier first leg at Westpac Stadium.

Chris Wood

The Burnley striker is in the form of his life, at the best possible time for the All Whites. Given the circumstances, he's made a rollicking start to life at Turf Moor, with three match defining goals. He was always seen as a special talent, ever since he signed for West Bromwich Albion as a teenager. He's taken the hard road to the top, with loan spells at numerous clubs, but three things have always stood out; His capacity for hard work, his determination to improve and his ability to find the net. At Leeds Wood got physically stronger under former manager Garry Monk, and also developed more of a killer instinct on the field. During this cycle Wood has scored approximately 40 per cent of the team's goals - a staggering statistic - and is the main hope of a precious goal tomorrow.

Winston Reid

A class act. Rated as one of the best defenders in the English Premier League, which is an extraordinary achievement for someone hailing from these shores. Has great anticipation, is composed on the ball and is the quickest New Zealand defender. Like previous captain Ryan Nelsen, makes player around him perform better just through his presence. Was badly missed during the 2013 playoffs against Mexico, and his absence was also telling at this year's Confederations Cup. New Zealand will be starved of possession at Westpac Stadium, but with Reid in the lineup there is genuine hope they will be defensively strong.

Ryan Thomas

Of the New Zealand players in the group below Reid and Wood, mark Thomas down as the one most likely to crack the big time. Has already achieved some amazing things with PEC Zwolle in the Dutch first division and is rated as one of the best young midfielders in the Eredivisie. Technically superb, Thomas has the precious ability to retain possession in tight spaces and the vision to use it well. He was New Zealand's stand out player at the Confederations Cup, looking comfortable on such a big stage. Thomas is likely to be heavily involved in most of New Zealand's positive attacking moments on Saturday.


Alberto Rodriguez (Defender)

Here's Alberto Rodriguez sending a Colombian player into a different dimension. Photo / Getty
Here's Alberto Rodriguez sending a Colombian player into a different dimension. Photo / Getty

The rock of the Peruvian defence. He'll be captain in the absence of the suspended striker Paolo Guerrero, and has more international experience (70 games) than anyone else on the park on Saturday. Similar to Winston Reid, Rodriguez provides a calming and stable influence at the back for Peru, borne of years of experience in Europe. He spent almost a decade playing in the Portuguese top flight, which is rated as one of the best leagues in Europe. Rodriguez reached the final of the Europa League with SC Braga in 2011, and later was runners-up in the Portuguese Cup final with Sporting Lisbon. Made his debut for La Blanquirrojain 2006 and has been an ever present since. The 33-year-old will be charged with nullifying the threat of Chris Wood on Saturday, aiming to keep the All Whites striker quiet throughout the 90 minutes.

Christian Cueva (Midfielder)

The 25-year-old made his international debut in 2011 and has become a regular in the last few years. Cueva has played club football in Peru, Mexico, Spain, Chile and currently wears the iconic No10 shirt for Brazilian giants Sao Paulo. Is used in an attacking midfield role, either just behind the strikers or the flanks. Like many of his compatriots has exceptional close control and dribbling skills and Cueva also has a dangerous change of pace. Scored a goal against Brazil in the 2015 Copa America and in the current qualifying campaign has found the net in wins over Ecuador, Paraquay and Bolivia, as well as a vital equaliser against Argentina.

Jefferson Farfan (Forward)

The 33-year-old is in the twilight of his career but has a hugely impressive CV. He was first capped by Peru as a 19-year-old and after impressing in the Peruvian domestic league was whisked away to PSV Eindhoven by Guus Hindink. He was electric for the Dutch team, helping them to win four successive Eredivisie titles. A long stint in the Bundesliga followed, where he played 170 games for Schalke FC and lifted the German Cup. Now at Lokomotiv Moscow, Farfan is often employed as winger for his country and has provided many key assists, but is also fourth on their list of all time leading scorers. Is used to high pressure games, with plenty of experience in the Champions League, as well as numerous Copa America and World Cup qualifiers with Peru.