Peru are on the mend, and are slowly but surely regaining the stature they enjoyed in the days when they made formidable opponents for even South America’s strongest sides.
The Peruvians’ ultimate goal is to return to the FIFA World Cup™ finals for the first time since Spain 1982, and as their rise of nine places to 59th in the latest FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking shows, they are on the right track. Back in the top 60 again after a three-month absence, La Blanquirroja recorded the highest rise of the month among South America’s ten national teams.
A major reason for that is the 384.9 points they collected in winning 1-0 in Panama on 9 February, the only goal of the game coming from Orlando Contreras. That victory on the road took them up to eighth in the CONMEBOL rankings, ahead of Bolivia in 97th and Venezuela in 63rd.
That position is still a modest one, however, and is some way short of Peru’s all-time high of 34th, attained in September 1997. On the positive side though, this is the first time since November that Los Rojiblancos have had two of their continental rivals below them, a distinct improvement on the situation a year ago, when they were bottom of the pile.
All eyes on Brazil 2014
One of the architects of Peru’s new-found stability is their Uruguayan coach Sergio Markarian, who came into the job in July 2010. Interviewed exclusively by FIFA.com a few months later, Markarian outlined his revival masterplan: “We came into the role with an ambitious plan that featured very clear goals: observe and follow domestic-based players; meet up with coaches; hold training camps even outside of FIFA-stipulated dates; visit our European-based players; and have meetings with football administrators, state representatives and private firms to secure support for the sport. We’ve managed to do all of that!”
Markarian will be getting his squad together in Spain in preparation for the upcoming 2011 Copa America and have warm-up games against Uzbekistan and Ecuador pencilled in. “The Copa will give us the chance to restore some prestige and to strengthen the team for the World Cup qualifiers,” he said in reference to the continental championship, to be staged in Argentina this July.
Although the Uruguayan knows what it takes to steer a team through to the world finals, having guided Paraguay to Korea/Japan 2002, Peru have struggled to make headway in the qualifying competition since the introduction of the ten-team group system. Aside from the qualifiers for France 1998, when they just missed out after finishing fifth behind Chile on goal difference, they have never risen higher than eighth place, coming last in the race to South Africa 2010.
Peru’s recently installed coach is intimate with the Peruvian national scene, however. In the 1990s he enjoyed stints in charge at Universitario de Deportes and Sporting Cristal, two of the biggest clubs in the land, winning a league title with both of them.
Those happy experiences probably explain his belief in Peru’s chances of future success: “There are the makings of a balanced and competitive team here. The objective is to reach the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, and I think I can achieve that. I accepted this job for a very good reason.”