World Cup qualifying requires cool heads. Which is easier said than done in the soaring temperatures of the Qatar summer.
The 2022 World Cup was originally moved from the months of June and July because of the extreme temperatures in the Gulf state at this time of the year.
On Monday, though, Peru will run out against Australia at the Al Rayyan Stadium, for a winner-takes-all play-off at a time of year originally deemed unsafe for the tournament to take place.
And despite the promise of an air-conditioned stadium, Nobby Solano, Peru’s assistant coach, isn’t happy.
“The game is kicking off at nine o’clock and they’re saying that the stadium is air-conditioned, so it will be fresh when we play,” he says. “But we’ve been training in Spain until this weekend because it’s just too hot to train in Qatar during the day.
“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. Although it’s obviously the same for both teams.”
For Peru, a win would ensure the country qualify for back-to-back World Cups for the first time since 1982.
They warmed up for their crucial match by beating New Zealand 1-0 in Barcelona, with Gianluca Lapadula scoring the winner. The All Whites have their own World Cup play-off in Qatar on Tuesday, against Costa Rica.
Australia, meanwhile, know that the game against the South Americans is a huge obstacle in their bid to make it to a fifth World Cup in a row.
The pair have history too, with Peru having beaten the Socceroos 2-0 in the last tournament in Russia.
“It’s a difficult game because both teams are under a huge amount of pressure to get to the World Cup in Qatar,” says Solano.
“It will be tough. Australia still have four or five players from the last tournament but a lot will depend on the mentality of the players.
“We probably couldn’t have asked for a tougher draw. It’s always tough when you get to this stage.
“I guess the main difference will be having to play the play-off in Qatar. Why aren’t we playing it in Europe? It’s a massive distance for both teams to travel but that’s the draw. We can only focus on the things we can control.
“It would be wonderful to get to the World Cup again. Remember, it was 36 years between us getting to Russia and having played in the tournament in Spain in 1982.
“The fans had to wait so long. Qualifying in South America is not easy, so just getting to this stage is a big achievement. To find ourselves one match from another World Cup, that’s huge for us.
“It’s an opportunity that we don’t want to waste – we can’t throw this opportunity away because you never know what’s around the corner. I know it will be tough. Australia will be direct, our style is very different.
“That result in Russia is completely in the past. Everything will depend on how strong we are – in the head and on the pitch. We have to make sure we don’t make mistakes because any errors could cost us a place at a World Cup.”
Solano will go into the match with a spring in his step having watched his beloved Newcastle United sprint away from the threat of relegation in the second half of a Premier League season which saw only Manchester City and Liverpool pick up more points in the second half of the campaign.
Having been at the club when Newcastle last played in the Champions League back in 2002-03, the former winger knows what it’s like to rub shoulders with the European elite.
And he believes Eddie Howe can get the club back to that level. Although he warns that it might take some time.
“The fans will need to be patient but qualification for Europe should be the aim,” says Solano. “Just getting into the Europa League will be tough, because the Premier League is so strong.
“But I think Eddie has shown that he’s the kind of manager who can build a squad and create the same kind of feeling that Bobby Robson did.
“You saw in the second half of the season just how united the team was. It might take some time but I think they’re definitely on the right path.”