18:15 BST, Saturday 9 June, Nya Ullevi (Goteborg, Sweden)
With only seven days to go until the start of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, teams are putting final touches on preparations.
Peru travel to south-west Sweden to face ‘Blagult’ for the first time, in a game that both sides will look to use to build confidence going into the tournament.
Neither side had a clear route to Russia, with both having to face the anguish and lottery of various playoff formats.
Peru competes in South America’s CONMEBOL region and have to face the likes of Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Colombia to reach the finals. After a straight-forward, 18-game home and away series of matches, the top four sides in table receive automatic places at the World Cup.
For the team that finishes fifth, a two-leg playoff with the OFC’s top team awaits. This time around, Peru got the better of New Zealand, 2-0 on aggregate.
The Peruvians are in incredible form and have gone 14 games without defeat, winning ten including their last five. The last time they were beaten was in November 2016.
Defensively, Ricardo Gareca’s men are resolute. In the same 14-game period, his side has only shipped eight goals and only one in their last six.
For Sweden, qualification was just as difficult. Having been drawn into UEFA’s Group A with France, Netherlands, Bulgaria, Luxembourg, and Belarus, going through to the finals automatically was no easy task.
France dominated proceedings, finishing four points clear, while an 8-0 drubbing of Luxembourg ensured Sweden would be guaranteed a spot in the playoffs ahead of the Dutch.
Of the eight sides to make up the draw, Sweden arguably met the biggest and toughest team in Italy. An aggregate scoreline of 1-0 saw the Swedes progress to their first World Cup since 2006. Janne Andersson’s men, though, are winless in their last four official fixtures.
Swedish sides are typically set up in either a 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 system, and it’s expected that this will carry over into the World Cup.
Manager Andersson has had a full week since his team last played, so the danger of burnout and fatigue shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
John Guidetti may return to the side after sitting out the 0-0 draw with neighbours Denmark last weekend. With only one more chance to get everything right, will we see Andersson deploy his best XI?
Most of the Peru squad ply their trades close to home. In fact, of the 23-man squad, only five play their domestic football away from the Americas.
While most names will be unfamiliar, Premier League fans may recognise forward Andre Carrillo, who is at Watford. Standout performer Christian Cueva carries the bulk of the Peruvian threat, and the 26-year-old is tipped to cause trouble in Russia.
Like their opponents, Peru have had an ample six days to recover from their previous fixture, so manager Ricardo Gareca will probably choose his best XI for their final game before jetting off to the World Cup.
Key Battle: Victor Lindelof (Sweden) vs Christian Cueva (Peru)
Much of Peru’s recent success is down to their creative, attack-minded midfielder, Cueva. While not perhaps scoring as many himself as he’d like (with eight goals in 45 games), his job for his team is vital.
His link-up play with the potent Paolo Guerrero is the typical ‘plan A’ for the Peruvians and Sweden’s success in this one will come down to their ability to keep the pair quiet.
Lindelof, whose chances at club side Manchester United have been limited this season, will be eager to build confidence ahead of what will be an important summer from a personal standpoint.
Can Peru be dark horses?
While suggesting that Peru may win the World Cup may be a little farfetched, the potential for them to go further in the tournament than most would expect is there.
South American sides can at times suffer from lack of exposure of facing teams other than those in their home region, with World Cup and Copa America campaigns often taking priority.
For Peru, though, it is a slightly different story. They have selected their fixtures carefully and cleverly in the lead up to the World Cup and have played teams from three different regions in their last five fixtures.
While the home and away ties with New Zealand were compulsory, wins over tough opponents in Croatia, Iceland, and Saudi Arabia has given them a well-rounded experience of different footballing styles and tactics – it can only be a positive thing to take to Russia.
Prediction: Sweden 1-2 Peru
Games involving Peru have goals; only three of their last 37 have ended goalless.
Sweden’s record of late is considerably more blemished, and Andersson’s side will be eager to get back to winning ways. Peru’s recent form, however, may dictate otherwise and will concern the Swede’s as they have won five in a row.
Sweden have not won an official fixture since the 1-0 win over Italy in November. Peru, meanwhile, are undefeated away from home since October 2016.
But with only one more week to go until the tournament, the form book may well go out the window.
Can Peru defeat Sweden? Let us know in the comments section below.
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