For a long time, it seemed Peru would miss out again. With seven games of their qualifying campaign played they had just four points and more disappointment looked like an inevitability.
But, in September 2016, Peru were handed a lifeline. Having been beaten by Bolivia in La Paz, it looked all over. Bolivia, though, had fielded an ineligible player and the result was overturned: Peru were handed a 3-0 win and went on to qualify. It was for the first time in 36 years.
That explained the celebrations: fans were jubilant when qualification was confirmed and, should there be any success in Russia, there will be more dancing and partying on the streets of Lima.
Route to the finals
Progressing from South American qualification is notoriously difficult.
It was no different this time around, a testament to Peru’s impressive campaign. They made a poor start but turned things around and secured fifth place ahead of Chile and Paraguay.
Peru still needed to navigate a playoff – a meeting against New Zealand – but by then they were a team with confidence and self-belief. They reached the finals with a 2-0 aggregate victory and the celebrations began.
“The whole country is really excited,” winger Andre Carrillo told FourFourTwo. “Now the players need to focus and perform in the best possible way, knowing that we are representing the entire nation.”
Coach Ricardo Gareca’s priority is likely to be on tightening Peru’s defence. They conceded 26 goals in qualifying and will need to improve if they are to progress beyond the group stages in Russia.
Gareca, an Argentine who scored the goal that stopped Peru from reaching the 1986 World Cup, predominately opted for a 4-2-3-1 system in qualifying, although he has since switched to a 4-4-1-1.
Captain Paolo Guerrero, Peru’s record goalscorer, is the key man for Peru. Having been serving a 14-month ban after testing positive for cocaine, the Peruvian recently saw it overturned, allowing him to appear in the finals in Russia.
Elsewhere, Christian Cueva will provide the passes from midfield, while Yoshimar Yotun and Renato Tapia will hold things together in deeper areas.
Key player: Paolo Guerrero
After seeing his 14-month ban for cocaine use recently overturned, 34-year-old Paolo Guerrero will go into the World Cup as Peru’s key player.
With 34 goals to his name at the international level, Guerrero is not a national hero for nothing. But his inclusion is important as much for the confidence of his squad as for his goal-scoring prowess.
Scoring a brace against Saudi Arabia in his first game back after his ban, the stage is set for the Flamengo player to have a dream summer.
As part of a Peru team who boast a number of exciting young prospects, Guerrero will be the wise head on the shoulders of La Blanquirroja.
With Group C comprising of three teams who came into the tournament through play-offs, then assured performances in the group stages could be enough to carry Peru through to the knock-out stages.
Group C: France, Australia, Peru, Denmark
Peru’s long unbeaten run – they have not lost a game in 18 months – has convinced some that progression from Group C is not only possible but probable.
France are clear favourites to finish top but second place appears up for grabs. And Peru will be confident of competing against both Australia and Denmark.
The result of the opening game against the latter is likely to be crucial. A win would put Peru in a strong position ahead of their meeting with France and finally Australia.
Much will depend on whether Peru’s players can handle the occasion. Reaching the World Cup finals was hugely significant in their homeland, and the attention of a nation will be focused on this group of players come June.
Prediction: Round of 16 exit
With Paolo Guerrero on the field, Peru have enough quality to challenge for second place in Group C.
They are a team in good form, with togetherness and cohesion and will be confident of reaching the knockout stages.
If they do, though, a Round of 16 exit, possibly at the hands of South American rivals Argentina, could be the most likely outcome.
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