Two years on from their first appearance at a FIFA U-17 World Cup, 2005 host nation Peru are beginning to bear the fruits of an organised and ambitious approach to youth football. While the Incaico outfit were unable to make it past the group stages on home soil, the experience gained has helped propel Peru to their second appearance at the elite competition, after their first successful qualifying campaign.
Coached by Juan Jose Ore, the team nicknamed Los Jotitas (The Small Js) whipped up a storm with their performances at March's South American U-17 Championship in Ecuador. So much so that after an impressive campaign which included victory over the mighty Brazil, among others, the young Peruvians returned home to find the streets filled with thousands of fans waiting to salute their new idols.
In the wake of all this euphoria, J.J. Ore's gifted charges must now turn their thoughts to the challenge awaiting them at Korea 2007. Inspired by the impudent genius of forward Reimond Manco, Peru will be looking to spring a surprise and improve on their 2005 performance, where they failed to make the second phase. Impishly skilful, full of pace and with everything to play for, Ore's boys appear well placed to do just that.
Peru sealed their place in Korea after claiming fourth place at the Sudamericano tournament in Ecuador. In common with many teams at this age level, Peru's campaign was a model of inconsistency. After a stellar opening phase, which saw the Jotitas top Group A ahead of Brazil, J.J. Ore's team were eventually forced to wait until the very last game of the six-team final round before cementing qualification.
Manco and his team-mates got off to the best possible start, their unhindered and free-flowing style taking them to a 2-1 opening-game victory over eventual winners Brazil. An emphatic 4-1 success over Bolivia, followed by a 0-0 draw with hosts Ecuador, sent Peru safely through the next round despite a 3-1 reverse at the hands of Chile in their final Group A clash. The decisive final phase would not go quite so smoothly, however, with Ore's side edging past Venezuela (2-1) before receiving a 4-1 humbling at the hands a rejuvenated Seleção. The Jotitas were then taken apart 3-0 by a stylish Colombian outfit, before rallying to end the competition with draws against Ecuador (2-2) and Argentina (1-1), just enough to claim fourth spot.
In total, Peru played nine games in Ecuador, coming away with three wins, three draws and three defeats. Despite recording a slightly negative balance of 12 goals scored and 16 conceded, fans of Incaico football can take heart from Manco's well-deserved award for the tournament's best player.
In spite of only taking up the reins on 29 January 2007, Juan Jose Ore managed something no other Peruvian national team coach has achieved in 29 years. Peru had not qualified for a FIFA tournament on sporting merit since the 1978 FIFA World Cup Argentina, a barren spell brought to an end by a man still known for his goalscoring exploits in a Universitario shirt back in the 1970s. Married with two children, Ore took over the U-17s from Argentinean coach Jose Luis Pavoni and immediately set about trying to ensure the future growth of Peruvian football, starting with the national youth sides. Following the team's success in Ecuador, the coach believes qualifying for Korea 2007 could be the start of a new era in Peruvian football: "I'm certain that Peru are on the way to regaining the status they held in South America in years gone by." His contract, which expired the very day the Jotitas earned their passage to Korea, was subsequently renewed on his return.
If there is one player capable of taking Peru to even greater heights at this August's showpiece tournament, it is Reimond Manco. The young Alianza Lima forward top-scored for his team with three strikes, and received the award for best player on show at March's Sudamericano. Born on 23 August 1990 in Lima, Manco spent eight years of his life in Venezuela, even going on to represent the Vinotinto at an U-15 tournament. However, the fleet-footed attacker considers himself to be "100 per cent Peruvian, like my entire family". Skilful, full of tricks and a cool finisher, many observers feel it is only a matter of time before Manco makes one of Europe's top leagues his home.
What they said...
"Qualifying for the [U-17] World Cup is a massive step forward for Peruvian football. I'm proud to be coaching these lads, who have put in so much hard work throughout the whole process. Now it's time to head to Korea and finish the job," Juan Jose Ore, Peru U-17 coach.
|19||Christian LA TORRE|
|ORE Juan Jose|