Peru became the 23nd and final team to clinch a berth in the 2018 FIFA World Cup. They accomplished that feat after defeating New Zealand 2-0 on the aggregate score in the FIFA Intercontinental World Cup Playoff Round. They did this despite missing Paolo Guerrero. The team’s star striker missed the tie against the OFC representative since he is currently suspended for an ongoing doping investigation that could force him to miss the tournament next year.
But let’s get back to the qualifying run for Peru. There is no question the team enjoyed a decent run in the CONMEBOL Qualifying stage, as they finished in fifth place ahead of teams such as Chile, Paraguay, and Ecuador. And while New Zealand was an inferior opponent, there was no doubt defeating them was not an easy task. But Peru won 2-0, and as a result they have returned to the World Cup for the first time in 36 years. Their last appearance was in Spain 1982.
The Start Of “The Process” For Ricardo Gareca’s “New Peru”
One could say players like Paolo Guerrero, Renato Tapia, Christian Cueva and Pedro Gallese deserve praise for playing huge roles on the team. However, the bigger credit should go to the team’s manager Ricardo Gareca. “El Tigre” built a winning-minded side in only three years, and at the same time conducted a huge rebuilding process. One that will likely transform Peru into a sustained South American contender for the next 7-10 years.
Everything started prior to the 2015 Copa America in Chile. The negative results forced the coaching staff to look for alternatives, and Gareca decided to play with what he called as “an alternative squad”. He left players such as Claudio Pizarro, Carlos Lobaton, Carlos Zambrano and others out of the squad, and instead gave space to names such as Christian Cueva, Edison Flores, Aldo Corzo, Miguel Trauco and Renato Tapia. Others such as Raul Ruidiaz and Andy Polo received bigger responsibilities as well. Jefferson Farfan and Yoshimar Yotun initially weren’t expected to feature regularly, but the latter made the Copa America squad either way. The results were surprising, and Peru reached the semifinal round before losing to Chile 1-2. That tournament represented the start of a process that led to Peru clinching the World Cup berth.
Gareca chose to repeat the same squad for the 2016 Copa America Centenario in United States, and the results were pretty decent once again. Los Incas eliminated Brasil out of the group stage and even though they did not win the tournament, there was a buzz around them. It seemed as if they were on the verge of breaking out, and that’s exactly what they did in 2017.
Peru’s Breakout In 2017
Peru ended the qualifiers on a positive note since finished unbeaten in their final matches. But things get better. If we include two friendlies during June this year and the two-leg playoff tie against New Zealand, then Peru are currently riding a 10-game undefeated streak across all competitions. They have six wins and four draws over that span, and some of the results have been quite surprising.
For instance, they defeated Uruguay at home back in March. And their final three games included a win against Ecuador in Quito’s altitude, as well as two draws against contending sides such as Colombia and Argentina. Those two results were key to secure a World Cup berth, although the meltdowns from Ecuador and Chile helped them as well.
Gareca is the thinking mind behind this team, and his presence is quite noticeable. He doesn’t change the 4-2-3-1 system, and a few players have emerged as key pieces. Gallese has emerged as one of the best goalkeepers in South America, and Miguel Trauco is arguably one of the best fullbacks in the Brazilian Serie A. Renato Tapia might not play much for Feyenoord, but he is a vital piece for the NT. The same goes for Christian Cueva, and the attacking line is quite strong. Edison Flores, Jefferson Farfan, and Watford’s Andre Carrillo occupy the wings, while Paolo Guerrero is the striker upfront. The former Bayern Munich star is the all-time leading scorer for Peru. There’s no question Peru needs him to play in the World Cup.
But if he doesn’t, then Peru will likely find a replacement. That’s what they have done ever since Gareca took charge of the team. And there’s no question the results have been better than expected so far. The World Cup spot proves it.
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