Despite finishing bottom of the pile in South America following another failed FIFA World Cup™ qualifying attempt, Peru are accentuating the positives after some heartening performances in their final four games. That recent improvement was reflected on the latest FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, with the Peruvians climbing 17 places up to 74th, providing them with some much-needed encouragement as they bid to restore their reputation in the region.
Though they are still some way short of their all-time high of 34th place in September 1997, Peru are at least heading in the right direction after dropping down to 91st just two months ago. Their latest Ranking climb was also the second-biggest in South America, behind Colombia, who rose 18 places. And the only other teams in the world to outjump them in October were Faroe Islands (up 41 places), Armenia (25) and Haiti (23), with South Africa-bound New Zealand also scaling 17 slots.
Peru’s ascent was due to a brace of 1-0 wins at home to Uruguay and Bolivia as the qualifying competition reached its conclusion, though it would be unfair not to mention the almighty scare they gave Argentina in their penultimate outing. Showing no signs of being overawed in front of a capacity crowd in Buenos Aires, Peru belied their lowly position in the group in a battling 2-1 defeat, Diego Maradona’s side only clinching victory thanks to a dramatic injury-time winner.
He should be Peruvian. There are lots of good coaches around at the moment with the ability to run the national side.
Having claimed only seven points in their first 14 games, Jose del Solar’s men collected six in their last four to at least put some gloss on what had been a very trying qualification tournament.
Time to take stock
That belated revival did not stop the national press from welcoming the end of Peru’s latest failure to reach the finals. “A forgettable campaign, a meaningless win”, ran the headline in the newspaper Todo Sport the day after the 1-0 defeat of Bolivia. “The nightmare is over” concluded sports daily El Bocón in similarly gloomy vein, while El Líbero paid tribute to the fortitude of the 6,000 fans who turned up at Lima’s Estadio Alejandro Villanueva for the closing game: “If there was a World Cup for fans, we’d be the champions.”
Del Solar, who is set to leave the post after this week’s friendly against Honduras, said the buck stops with him. “I take full responsibility and if I didn’t think that way then I should be locked up in a lunatic asylum. There’s no doubt I made a lot of mistakes, especially in the way I handled some situations. Lots of things happened on the way, but I always faced the consequences and didn’t shirk the challenge.”
Asked about his replacement and the rumours that the job could go to a foreign coach, Del Solar had this to say: “He should be Peruvian. There are lots of good coaches around at the moment with the ability to run the national side.”
Whoever takes on the job will at least have a solid core of experienced players to work with. Peru’s hopes of reaching Brazil 2014 will rest largely on the foreign-based quartet of Paolo Guerrero (Hamburg), Jefferson Farfan (Schalke), Alberto Rodriguez (Braga) and Juan Vargas (Fiorentina), all of them in their mid-20s, while Werder Bremen’s Claudio Pizarro still has much to offer despite having turned 30. And with a group of talented youngsters also coming through, led by Carlos Zambrano (Schalke), Josepmir Ballon (Universidad San Martin) and Daniel Chavez (Club Bruges), the Peruvians have the potential to improve.
Time will tell if Del Solar’s successor can shape a new team to evoke memories of the great Peru sides of the 1970s. Yet, as their recent rally shows, the resources and the ability are certainly there.