Peru failed to break down a resolute New Zealand defence in a 0-0 draw in Wellington Saturday to leave its dream of ending a 36-year absence from the World Cup hanging by a thread.
"Los Incas" failed to score a coveted away goal despite outplaying New Zealand in the opening match of their two-legged World Cup qualifier, with the winner claiming a spot at next year's Russia 2018.
Peru, ranked 10th in the world to New Zealand's 122, was the better team but lacked a cutting edge in the absence of goal-scoring captain Paolo Guerrero, who is currently suspended over an abnormal result in a doping test.
New Zealand worked tirelessly in defence and its players rode their luck at times, but grew in confidence as the game progressed and will be delighted to head into the second leg in Lima on Wednesday on even terms.
New Zealand was dealt a blow before kick-off when striker Chris Wood was ruled out of the starting line-up with a hamstring injury.
They showed early nerves, almost conceding a goal in the sixth minute with some indecisive defending that forced keeper Stefan Marinovic to race back and palm the ball off the line.
The visitors dominated in midfield, allowing Andre Carrillo to pepper the New Zealand box with crosses searching in vain a finish from striker Jefferson Farfan.
It was 20 minutes before the first meaningful New Zealand attack, when Ryan Thomas won a corner only to send the ball over the head of a leaping Tommy Smith.
There were chances at either end for New Zealand's Kosta Barbarouses and Christian Cueva of Peru but both shot wide without bothering the keeper.
Peru continued to build patiently, although Farfan appeared to struggle as the target man in Guerrero's absence. He failed to capitalize as more New Zealand errors led to a goalmouth scramble 10 minutes before the break.
The hosts looked sharper after the break as midfielder Marco Rojas set off on some enterprising runs.
Peru wrested back possession and forced Marinovic into two saves in two minutes, first instinctively stopping Aldo Corzo's short-range header then calmly dealing with Edison Flores' shot from the edge of the box.
New Zealand showed late attacking intent bringing on Wood in the 72nd minutes and a free kick from the big striker immediately forced a diving save from Peru keeper Pedro Gallese.
Wood's presence up front created space in Peru's defence but Barbarouses and Thomas both squandered gilt-edged opportunities to take the lead.
Flores send a shot over the bar at the other end but New Zealand was able to hold on.
The return leg will take place on November 15 at Lima's National Stadium at 9:15 PM (local time).