Ricardo Gareca, Peru’s hugely-loved coach, is known as “Tigre” (“Tiger”), and the nickname aptly serves the fighting instinct his team showed in qualifying for the World Cup for the first time in 36 years. Led by captain and record goalscorer Paolo Guerrero, the side has a warrior’s soul and will give everything to make the next chapter of their remarkable story a happy one.
First the style; then the outline. Gareca used his finely-trained eye to choose the right players for the kind of football he holds dear, majoring on good treatment of the ball. Peru had lost its football identity over the 20 years before he took the job in 2015. He brought back the elegance that had gone missing, adding the more modern touches of physical fitness and a commitment to discipline. It all came together so that they reached Russia 2018 after defeating New Zealand in a play-off.
Peru’s preparations had been struck by a sizeable blow when Guerrero was banned from the World Cup after receiving a Fifa penalty for doping. But his reprieve (he will still serve his ban but after the tournament) at the end of May means Peru will head to the tournament with their strongest side available.
Gareca is likely to start with Pedro Gallese in goal, Luis Advíncula at right-back, Alberto Rodríguez and Christian Ramos as central defenders and Miguel Trauco at left-back. Renato Tapia and Yoshimar Yotún, a pair that complement each other very well with their positional and passing ability, will play in the middle of the park. The trio operating behind Guerrero will be formed by André Carrillo, Christian Cueva and Jefferson Farfán.
If Peru find goals hard to come by, one option would be to push Farfán into attack with his old friend Guerrero, switching to a 4-4-2. That is what Gareca has been working on in their training camp in San Luis, and it came together well in the March friendlies with victories against Croatia and Iceland.
Fifa allowed World Cup participants to name a provisional squad of 35 players, but Gareca only selected 24. He did not want to work with an oversized party so only one player from his initial list will be culled, that group will only discard one. His gaze is fixed on the nucleus of the side he formed two years ago at the Copa América “Centenario”. There, they were knocked out on penalties in the quarter-finals; they will need the eye of the tiger if they are to hold hope of a similar finish in Russia.
Which player is going to surprise everyone at the World Cup?
Edison Flores is the team’s shining light and a constant goal threat. The “Orejas” (“Ears”), as he is known, has nine goals in the Gareca era and his presence in attack has been crucial in obtaining decisive victories – especially away from home against Paraguay and Ecuador. He is 24 years old and plays for Aalborg in Denmark, but a move to a bigger league will surely come soon.
Which player is likely to disappoint?
Gareca’s main concern is Alberto Rodríguez. The 34-year-old is his main defender and the team’s current captain, but he has endured a long line of injuries and is still not operating at 100%.
What is the realistic aim for Peru at the World Cup and why?
The round of 16. Peru’s decisive match will be their first, against Denmark in Saransk on 16 June. If Gareca’s side overcome this obstacle, they will be in an unbeatable position to reach the second round. Against a team as physically impressive as the Danes, Peru will have to cause damage through teamwork and effective treatment of the ball.
Probable starting XI
Advíncula Rodríguez Ramos Trauco
Farfan Cueva Flores