It’s rare that common sense prevails in football. On 31st May, however, a Swiss court bucked the trend by deciding to lift Paolo Guerrero’s suspension from competing at the World Cup. The 34-year-old had been banned in October, after testing positive for cocaine.
Guerrero, however, has protested his innocence ever since, suggesting that the test was skewed by his consumption of some contaminated tea. His cause was even taken up by his country’s opponents in Russia, with a letter co-signed by captains Mile Jedinak, Simon Kjaer, and Hugo Lloris.
The news will be a massive relief to Peruvian coach Ricardo Gareca. His country overcame a dogged New Zealand side in the playoffs as they reached their first tournament in nearly forty years.
Other than Guerrero and a 33 -year-old Jefferson Farfan, there are few recognisable names in the Blanquirroja squad. One name that will soon become very familiar is Christian Cueva,
The 26-year-old currently plies his trade in Brazil with Sao Paulo, where he forms part of a scintillating attacking trio alongside Lucas Pratto and Gilberto. The Paulistanos had a difficult year in Serie A, finishing stodgily in mid-table and suffering early exits in both the Copa Sudamericana and Copa do Brasil. Despite a year of turmoil which saw the club plough through three different coaches, Cueva has been one of the constants of the season, netting ten times in 42 appearances.
If you haven’t heard of Cueva, don’t worry. He has had something of a nomadic career to date, with four years at Universidad San Martín presaging a gilded season with Alianza Lima. After 12 months with Toluca in Mexico, he traced his steps back over the Tropic of Cancer, where he swiftly installed himself as the Brazilian’s number ten.
Despite being unheralded outside of South America, Cueva is a household name in Lima. He has been a regular for the national squad since his debut seven years ago and was an essential part of the squad during the CONMEBOL qualifiers. Only Guerrero and Edison Flores scored more than him throughout the course of the campaign.
Cueva has already made 44 appearances for his country and scored eight goals. He also scored Peru's opening goal at the 2015 Copa America in a 2-1 defeat against Brazil.
Since then he has netted most recently against Scotland just last month, with his previous international goal coming against Bolivia in August 2017.
Needless to say, Cueva’s movement off the ball is exceptional. He is an expert timer of runs and knows just when to run or release the ball to his teammates. He is aggressive with the ball at his feet, disinterested in bland sideways balls and looking constantly for the dashes of Guerrero and Flores ahead of him. Cueva is pacy too and is no stranger to a lashed finish.
At 26, however, he is yet to face the rigors of top-level football. The Brasileiro might be the best league in South America, but the quality is incomparable to that found in most European leagues.
Even Argentina, a side who might have been able to provide some facsimile of an elite defence, have a dearth of defensive talent. Cueva has never proved himself against the best, whilst he offers precious little without the ball in possession. In qualifying, however, he was a luxury worth indulging. Expect him to be the probing, jinking maestro at the heart of every Peruvian attack.
Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss potential winners of the World Cup in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.