When talismanic striker Chris Wood arrived into the All Whites camp last week nursing a hamstring injury, internal talk immediately turned to who might replace him in the starting line-up for the first match of the intercontinental playoff against Peru.
There were plenty of like-for-like options with veterans Shane Smeltz, Rory Fallon and Jeremy Brockie all experienced in a centre-forward role. Instead, Anthony Hudson turned to Kosta Barbarouses, who he'd left out of his squad earlier this year for the final Oceania group games against Fiji.
The Melbourne Victory attacker - more suited to wide roles than being the point of the attacking arrow - repaid his coach's faith by putting in a lion-hearted performance. If GPS measurements were taken after 90 minutes, his readings would have been among the highest as he ran constant shuttles between the Peruvian back four, hassling and harrying to give his deeper lying team-mates the chance to catch their breath.
"It was probably the first time in a very long time that I've been nervous before a football game," Barbarouses revealed.
"It was just so tense. I knew that by getting back to basics, running and working hard for the team, I could burn that off. We're in season now so I'm feeling really good physically."
"That's just the measures we have to go to even to have a chance of going to a World Cup. I think all the boys put in a massive shift and I'm really proud of everyone," he said.
At the time of his dropping from the national side in March, Barbarouses was coming towards the end of an unsettled season with the Wellington Phoenix. He responded to Hudson's snub with a man-of-the-match performance for his A-League club against Newcastle, with his national boss watching on from the stands. He quickly regained his spot in the All Whites, went to the Confederations Cup in June and has started New Zealand's last four matches.
Barbarouses knew early in the week he'd likely be starting Saturday's game with Wood a day-to-day prospect of being involved at all. As it transpired, the Burnley striker played the last 16 minutes of the game, but it was midfielder Clayton Lewis who made way.
"I knew I'd be more the focal point with Marco (Rojas) in behind," said Barbarouses.
"Apart from that, the job was pretty similar to what I normally do. It was just getting up for the fight and knowing I had to compete for headers. I was the obvious one because I'm a lot taller than Marco!"
Whether Wood is fit to start the second leg on Thursday remains to be seen, but Hudson seemed optimistic about his chances after the clash in Wellington. Certainly during his limited time on the pitch in the first leg, he looked untroubled by his hamstring niggle.
If Wood starts in Lima, Barbarouses may have to be content with a supporting role from the bench, but his gut-busting effort in the first game certainly played a big part in New Zealand's impressive showing.
"I'm glad I helped to get a positive result and I think we can kick on to get more now in the return game. You could see the boys were perhaps a little bit disappointed with that result. We feel like we should have got more."
"At the end of the day we need one goal; I'm not saying that's what we're going to go out and try to do, but I think we can contain them and get that goal with hard work and determination."
"We're very positive going over there."