As fairytale stories go the qualification of Peru for the World Cup this summer in Russia will take some beating. It has been 36 years since the Peruvians last played at the World Cup and the to say that the Peruvian people are celebrating the occasion would be an understatement.
With that said however Peru are not going in to the World Cup looking to just enjoy the occasion and have a party, they have assembled a genuinely dangerous squad, recent friendly wins over Croatia, Iceland and Scotland will attest to that, and Denmark, France and Australia would be well advised to give the Peruvians some respect going in to their group stage matches.
The recent decision by FIFA to lift the ban on national captain and talisman Pablo Guerrero will further strengthen the resolve of the Peruvian side. There had been a large amount of support for the decision from other participating nations and players who felt it unfair to make Guerrero miss such a career-defining tournament.
Coach – Ricardo Gareca
Ricardo Gareca was previously a name much maligned in Peruvian football history as when playing for his native Argentina Gareca scored the goal that prevented Peru from qualifying for the World Cup. This is now just a distant memory with Gareca being treated as a national hero having led the squad to Russia.
His managerial career has been varied and he has spent time in Argentina, Colombia, Brazil and Peru before finally being given the national team job by the Peruvian federation in 2015. It was during a two-year spell at domestic giant Universitario that Gareca got a real sense of Peruvian football and he has brought those lessons into the job.
Tactically Gareca prefers a structured 4-2-3-1 with the four attacking players given a significant amount of tactical freedom in the final third and the two central midfielders working hard to support in each phase of play.
Pedro Gallese, Carlos Caceda, Jose Carvallo
Luis Advincula, Miguel Araujo, Aldo Corzo, Nilson Loyola, Christian Ramos, Alberto Rodriguez, Anderson Santamaria, Miguel Trauco
Christian Cueva, Edison Flores, Paolo Hurtuado, Renato Tapia, Yoshimar Yotun, Pedro Aquino, Wilmer Cartegena, Sergio Pena,
Andy Polo, Jefferson Farfan, Paolo Guerrero, Andre Carrillo, Raul Rudiaz
Here we see an example of where the return of Paulo Guerrero to the squad will greatly benefit Peru in their attacking phase of play. The highlighted area is where Guerrero will typically play in this situation, he will position himself in between the two central defenders essentially pinning them both in place and creating space elsewhere for his teammates to move in to and exploit.
Peru will always play with width stretching the opponent’s defensive structure out and with the addition of a fixed central striker, there will be spaces that the Peruvians can exploit in the final third with later runs from deeper areas.
This shows the above point, Peru are attacking into the penalty area with the ball out on the left-hand side. As the man in possession moves to isolate the defender the central striker and right winger have already entered the penalty area and will look to split their runs, one to the near post and one to the far post.
These runs and the threat of the man in possession beating the defender there is a channel of space created that the last runner can exploit moving forward.
The decision from FIFA to allow Guerrero to play at the tournament is a huge lift to the squad as a whole, it also gives coach Gareca a problem with Jefferson Farfan also capable of playing as the lone striker.
Guerrero is the all-time top national team scorer and his skillset ticks all of the boxes that you are looking for from a forward. Strong when linking play and receiving the ball with his back to goal he is also a threat to run in behind defences. The presence of Guerrero on the field will result in more spaces being open in which his teammates can play.
I would expect Guerrero to play in every match although his match fitness is in question. Jefferson Farfan should play in a more withdrawn central role and the two veteran forwards will be a genuine handful in the attacking phase.
Young Player to Watch
The 22-year-old central midfielder has firmly established himself in the national team picture under Gareca. The tough-tackling midfielder plays in the Netherlands for Feyenoord and he has begun to add a more technical side to his game.
Expect to see Tapia start as one of the two central midfielders and if he can exert his influence on the games then Peru will flow well from defence to attack. Earlier in his career, Tapia was more effective as a destructive player but now he can play the creator with the ability to break forwards into the final third of the field when the opportunity presents itself.
As with so many other players, a strong showing in this summers tournament could well ignite interest amongst some of Europe’s bigger sides post-tournament.
The 24-year-old wide player has only recently became firmly established in the national team squad. Promising enough as a youngster to be picked up by Spanish side Villarreal, well known for their scouting prowess in South America, and despite returning to Peru having not broken into the first team squad at Villarreal this did not stop Flores from returning to Europe to play in Denmark for AaB.
Quick and elusive Flores fits the prototype for South American wide players. He is equally comfortable attacking down the outside of defenders or cutting back inside to advance on goal and with the likes of Guerrero leading the line in Russia Flores could be the beneficiary of the extra space created by Guerrero in and around the final third.