Peru must build on their Copa America campaign and qualify for their first World Cup since 1982, coach Ricardo Gareca has claimed.
Gareca’s side missed out in a place in the Copa America final after losing to hosts Chile on Monday, but their passage to the last four more than exceeded expectations ahead of their meeting with Paraguay in a third-place play-off on Friday.
Having finished third at the 2011 Copa America, Gareca has challenged Peru to match that effort this year and then build to qualify for Russia 2018.
“Every match is special with this shirt because you are representing a country,” the 57-year-old said at his pre-match media conference on Thursday.
“We have the opportunity of finishing an even better position, third place. We have players of great quality in Peru. It’s key that they are motivated and they have shown that that they are.”
Gareca added: “It’s very important. For us and for Paraguay it was very important to have a strong Copa America because both [teams] are new processes, for [opposition coach] Ramon Diaz and for me, and the quicker you get to know the players and achieve your objectives, the better.
“For both teams it is important to have a good Copa and prepare in the best way for the World Cup qualifiers.”
The Conmebol campaign to reach the 2018 World Cup kicks off in October and Peru will look to qualify for the first time in 36 years.
“The identity is important,” Gareca said.
“It’s not for me to say whether I am restoring the identity to Peruvian football, because it has a rich history, but I believe in the Peruvian players and if the public think that this team resembles teams from the past, then that’s great.
“We are just trying to make the team stronger all the time.”
Peru suffered only two defeats at the tournament to Brazil and Chile – both by a single goal – and scored in all but one of their matches – a goalless draw with Colombia.
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